Do you like it when people underestimate you? I do. I believe there are many merits to being the underdog.
Many times in life, I’ve been dismissed for various reasons – being too new to an industry or place, for my inherent traits that aren’t relevant (race, gender, looks, being short, etc.), interests or circumstances. When I was younger, it may have bothered me more. I wanted to display how good I could be; I wanted to prove that I was better. I wanted people to acknowledge me as the best. But as I’ve grown, I no longer care about the outward appearances of these things (play your own game, right?). I still care about actually being great, but now I feel that being the underdog in situations may actually be preferable.
Mindset of a challenger
Being an underdog means that you put yourself in new circumstances. You seek out new experiences that you may not know much about. I think that’s ideal; I’ve found most upside from taking risks in switching to new conditions. Actually being the underdog means being open to being the noob, and adapting to change. That fearlessness is a huge positive in life. It also means you may pick industries or endeavors with much larger rivals and use that as a force of motivation.
One of the most pertinent benefits of being an underdog is that you play like a real challenger. You identify issues with your fresh eyes, where people have been around for a long time may not look. I’ve found that, with the mindset of being an underdog, I tend to express creativity better. I also will take the time to rethink norms, or just circumvent them completely since I never knew them!
Being an underdog also means never resting on my laurels. Since I know I’m not at the summit yet, I’m going to keep climbing. I’m going to keep challenging. And it’s rinse and repeat until I get to where I want to go, and then I know I have to redo it again elsewhere.
When we’re underdogs, we’re also more likely to be open-minded and be more eager to learn from others. I am often blessed to find that people are patient and helpful when I’m new to something. There are amazing people everywhere who love to share their thoughts and tools! Being the underdog predisposes me to their mentorship, and I am much more open to learning everything there is to learn.
I don’t mean pretend to be noob so people will teach you, obviously. Be transparent about the fact that you’re new and that you’re willing to learn, and you will benefit.
Underpromise and overdeliver
A good side effect of being an underdog is that you underpromise and overdeliver. Most people probably didn’t think you could do it anyway. So if you made something spectacular happen, it’s going to shock them more than usual, lol.
I think this isn’t as important if you’re doing your own stuff, but it helps to build credibility. If you work in a role with others, then this usually works very well over the long run.
Go forth and bite
Sometimes I think my preference for being an underdog could be cultural. In Chinese (I am Singaporean, so I know some), there’s a saying: 深藏不露 (shēn cáng bú lù). It basically means that even if you have knowledge and talent, you should temper yourself and learn humility, and not be flashy or overbearing with others. In many ways, I feel strongly aligned with this perspective.
August 28, 2021