The Things I’ve Learned from Being Constantly Underestimated

I get underestimated, a lot. And the truth is, it used to bother me, a lot. I guess I get it. I am a bubbly, probably overly friendly, and pretty feminine person and for some crazy reason I feel like people tend to think I’m going to be unintelligent, a pushover, and noncompetitive. However, as time has gone on, I’ve learned to embrace the idea of my underestimation and use it as a sort of superpower. This is what I’ve found:

  1. Being underestimated has its perks– I’m not going to lie, I used to hate this. Every minute of it. The number of times people have been “surprised” at my performance used to be unbearable. I didn’t understand what it was that I did that made people underestimate me, but it absolutely drove me insane. No matter how much I changed my demeanor, my style, my pretty much everything except the core of who I was, it didn’t seem to matter. So maybe out of pure frustration, I just stopped caring and the most amazing thing happened. The extra time I spent worrying about people thinking I wasn’t capable of excelling or even doing my job was actually spent doing instead of worrying. I was able to accomplish far more than I ever had before. Nobody really bothered me either. I got to be in my own world until it was finally time to show what we had produced and every time I seemed to peek my head out and offer up something valuable to the people I was serving, which felt great. I got to stay out of a lot of the politics of the teams I was working on and just focus on the things that mattered to me. When I stopped trying to prove myself, I got a lot done. 
  2. Stop trying to compensate – Don’t try to change who you are to suit the idea of what a successful person looks like. Because if you are successful, then you are exactly what a successful person looks like, just as you are. I say this for two reasons. The first and more practical is because most likely, if you try acting inauthentic, people will notice and it will probably have the opposite effect. Second, if you’re being inauthentic, you will notice, and will most likely become unhappy. I have tried to act the part of the traditional business person, the engineer, the dynamic woman and every time it has seemed to blow up in my face. But keep in mind that I use the word traditional. I see myself as those things, but not in the same way most other people do. 
  3. Use it to your advantage – If people are going to underestimate you, then please – use it to your advantage. If you have to deal with the irritation of people assuming your capabilities then you might as well make use of the perks, which I promise, after you look past the initial frustration there are plenty. People tend to be extremely watchful of others they see as threats, so while you’re completely capable and awesome self is flying under the radar, you’ll deal with a lot less crap along the way. Use this extra time to focus on yourself, your work, and your passions. Also use this time to take note of how much more productive you most likely are when you’re not caught up in the competitive, he said she said games that tend to happen when you feel you are pinned up against other people. Take in what it feels like to not constantly be compared to others and use that amazing feeling in other parts of your life, and most importantly, how you view yourself compared (or better yet not compared) to others. 
  4. Remember that it is not a reflection of you, but other people’s misunderstanding of your personality traits – Do not, I repeat, do not take others thoughts about you personally. I know it seems weird. And I’m not saying that people will never be able to understand you or that they’re never going to be right about you. But I do think it’s important to understand that initial assumptions are usually a reflection of a person’s experiences, not of your actions. Although I think things always got better for me as I moved forward and was able to showcase my work, my initial underestimation always seemed inevitable. But a lot of these people had never met me before, didn’t know my past work history, and were simply piecing together who I was based off of people they had known that had similar personalities to me, or potentially off of nothing at all. Don’t take it to heart. It’s not you and other people will learn that eventually. 
  5. Own who you are – This part is my favorite. I used to spend so much time trying to be like other people, so that they could see me as successful in spite of being my bubbly, feminine self. But now, I love to show people that I am successful because of being my bubbly, feminine self. Whatever the reasons that people underestimate you, be consistent in showing them that it is in fact all of your personality traits, every part of who you are, that that contributes to your success as a person. Although it might take others longer to see it, my warmth and nurturing characteristics are not a character flaw and help me build relationships with others. My refusal to put down other people as I grow doesn’t make me weak but helps me gain other powerful allies while I continue to get shit done.

So as much as I’d like to be able to walk into a new group of people and have them understand who I am going to be, it seems unlikely. It takes time for people to know who you are and you’re going to have to reprove it every time. Which truthfully, makes sense. But in the meantime, let people underestimate you. It will give you more time to be secretly kicking ass. 

But please, please note that this type of passive attitude does not refer to someone mistreating you or discriminating against you. If that’s the case I’m sorry, and you have every right to speak up and shut that down immediately. 

 

Much love,

Hilary

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