Last night, Adele shone bright on the music industry's biggest stage, the 59th annual Grammy Awards.

The superstar took home a total of five awards, including album of the year (for 25), and both record and song of the year (for "Hello"). She did the same thing five years ago, making her the first artist to win album, record, and song of the year twice (according to The New York Times).

I'm a fan of Adele's music, and I've written previously about her ability to focus. But her acceptance speech last night struck me, because she used a phrase that is so often abused.

"I can't possibly accept this award," said Adele. "And I'm very humbled and I'm very grateful ... but my artist of my life is Beyonce."

And there it is--a phrase that we hear more than ever, especially at awards ceremonies.

"I'm humbled."

Oxford defines humble (the verb) as "causing someone to feel less important or proud." Similarly, the quality of humility means to have a modest or low view of one's importance. But "winning" usually has the opposite effect: When an individual is publicly recognized for an achievement, he or she is put on a pedestal--and this tends to foster feelings of pride and self-importance.

Some claim that the phrase "I'm humbled" is simply a way to express humility, for one to indicate that all the attention is undeserved or that the process has helped demonstrate how small one is in the big scheme of things.

But the problem is we often hear people say they are humbled, only to act the opposite. They quickly return to a routine of self-promotion, or they focus on emphasizing their own accomplishments and achievements. In effect, their actions prove the use of the phrase to be disingenuous and self-serving.

By using her speech to shift attention to a competitor, Adele attempted to show how the process had humbled her--by forcing her to consider why she shouldn't have won, and to think about the impact those like Beyonce have had on others (instead of trying to magnify her own impact). She maintained this focus by continuing to praise Beyonce in post-Grammy interviews.

This is in harmony with what one linguistics expert wrote in connection with the phrase: "To some extent, saying 'I am humbled' is tantamount to saying I am in touch with my humanity, because the English words humble and human seem to share the same Latin root humus."

This is one reason why Adele appeals to so many--the way she speaks, the way she carries herself--she seems to be so relatable, so down to earth.

And herein lies the major lesson:

If you're truly humbled by an experience, don't worry about telling us.

Just go out there and prove it.

Published on: Feb 13, 2017
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