The Leonard Cohen School of Humility and Self-Confidence

When it comes to humility and self-confidence, Leonard Cohen exhibits a particularly masterful blend. The man has it down. Aside from the fact that he is extraordinarily talented, I would wager a guess that the combination of these two qualities is one of the main reasons he has experienced such tremendous success as a musician.

I’m more than a little bit obsessed with Leonard, so I’ve spent many, many hours watching his interviews, speeches, and performances. It never fails to amaze me that he is so consistently and meticulously humble and confident in his dealings with others.

Did you watch the link? He expresses gratitude for other musicians performing covers of his work. He makes note of the fact that most of his career as a singer and songwriter was rather humble, it took a long time for him to get where he is. He points out that it took a full decade for the most popular song he’s written to get noticed by anyone other than Bob Dylan. At the end of the conversation, he thanks the interviewer more than once. As they’re wrapping up, you can hear him ask a woman in the background, “Did we get anything good? Did we get anything interesting? Because if we didn’t, let’s go on,” graciously offering up his time.

He also exudes confidence. His body language is open. His smile is quick and easy. Everything about him comes across as genuine.

Humility Keeps You Real (and Likable)

False humility is easy to spot, and it’s a huge turn off. If you can’t respond to a simple compliment without rambling on and on about how you’re actually the human doormat upon which society should wipe its feet, you’re not humble, you need therapy. Humility isn’t the same thing as low self-esteem, and it’s definitely not putting yourself down with the hopes that other people will disagree and tell you how wonderful and talented you are. You can be humble and feel absolutely fantastic about yourself; most truly humble people do feel good about themselves. That’s why they don’t feel an overwhelming need to seek out or reject external validation. It’s the middle path between low self-esteem and arrogance.

Confidence is Quiet (Insecurity is Loud)

Can you imagine Leonard Cohen showing up at a party and making a big, loud deal about getting everyone’s attention? Do you suppose he wanders up to people and starts interrupting conversations to rattle off lists of the awards he’s won and how many concerts he’s held in his lifetime? While I’ve never been lucky enough to have him as a party guest, so I can’t vouch for it with 100% certainty, I’d be willing to bet money that he doesn’t.

Bragging, interrupting, shouting to drown out other people, speaking ill of others, and demanding the limelight all scream, “I have a raging case of insecurity, and I’m terrified that you’ll find out.”

Confident people knows that a conversation is all about give and take. They listen as much (or more) than they talk. They are curious about others and take an interest in what they have to say. When they don’t have anything nice to say, they keep their mouths shut. Their presence sets other people at ease, because they’re at ease.

Defining Success

How do you define your success as an artist or entrepreneur? Is it making a certain amount of money? Having everyone know your name? If I told you that it takes humility and confidence to have those things, you’d know I was either lying or living under a rock.

But do you have a genuine desire to make the world a better place by offering something useful or beautiful to the people who pay for your products and services? Is your drive to do what you do fueled by a sense of purpose beyond your bank account?

I’m not anti-money. In fact, I think it’s really awesome to have a place to live, clothes to wear, and heat in the winter. Okay, hell, I’ll also admit to really, really liking great sushi and mid-century furniture. Oh, and shoes. I like shoes. A lot. So, yes. Yes to making money. It’s just that I want every single penny to be earned in ways that are in alignment with my values. Humility and confidence lay a great foundation for integrity, honesty, respect, and kindness.

I’ll let Leonard Cohen school me any day, but I like to have a variety of teachers. So tell me, what values are at the core of your creative endeavors? How do you define right livelihood? What is it that you hope to offer the world?

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