BY MARYBETH GRONEK
I insist on being the dumbest person in any room.
Not by choice, I’ll add. By practice. Grueling, ego-killing practice.
And I’ll be honest. It kind of sucks. That is, until the results.
I was recently at a dinner party where I felt woefully out of place. Everyone present was more advanced than me in nearly every topic of conversation: real estate investment, stock market, travel, finances, entrepreneurship. Throughout the party I faced a now-normal internal struggle to check out.
When I’m confronted with my own lack of knowledge and success in a single area, I admit, my natural reaction is to shut down. It’s self-preservation of sorts. Preservation of the ego. It can be exhausting to continually be around people who are in the *than you* camp: smarter than you, quicker than you, overall, just better than you. It makes me doubt my own accomplishments, how far I’ve come, and if I’m not careful, my value.
I have recently learned the importance of doing the exact opposite of checking out: of leaning in. Of asking questions, basic questions that help me understand fundamental concepts of how things work. I realize these questions expose me to the scrutiny of others, to their awareness that I don’t know shit about what they are talking about. But that’s okay. That I can live with. What I can’t live with? Nodding my head, fake-smiling, pretending I know what they are saying, then leaving the interaction not only no more improved, but also guilty of being a preposterous hack.
Everyone is going to have a little bit of ego in them, of wanting to be proud and feel good about self. Of wanting to look smart and accomplished among others. But to lead from our ego? That shit is dangerous. That’ll keep you stagnant. We need to decide what we want more in life: to feel good or to grow. If it’s the latter, we absolutely must surround ourselves with people who will challenge us to raise the bar in all aspects: intellectually, morally, ‘work’fully, fiscally. And for this to happen, for us to actually learn from these interactions, ego must take a back seat. Yes, these people are ‘better’ than me at certain things. But if I run from it now, I will not learn how they got there. Meaning, I will never get there myself. The stakes are higher than we realize.
Here’s where we need to reframe our thinking: Acknowledging someone is smarter than us does not minimize our value. Self-awareness is not a weakness. To look boldly at reality and face it full on — that is a strength. And that is the only place from which personal growth, and consequently success, can begin.
When the success gap between me and the person I’m speaking with is painfully obvious, and consequently, I’m feeling the impulse to check out, here’s what I ask myself: which game am I playing? If it’s the finite game, I’ll surround myself with people that make me feel good. If it’s the infinite game, I’ll put myself in circles that challenge me. Because here’s another law of nature: your network is your net worth. Proximity to power is power. To hold court with success is success. It’s better to hang out with goldmines than ash-heaps. Even if I stick out like a grubby piece of coal among the shine.
Because here’s the thing. Those paragons of success we admire? They were once the dumbest person in the room. All that glitters wasn’t always gold. They dared to question, to learn, to aspire. They dared to hang out in the goldmine. Discomfort, not glory, is the furnace of success.
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