Deru kugi wa utareru is a Japanese proverb that means, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” In other words, stand out too much and you become a marked person. I wholeheartedly agree with this proverb, and live by it until it’s time to make a move.
Unless you are an egomaniac who just can’t get enough attention, in almost every scenario it’s good to be the underdog. You can walk around freely and nobody will ever notice you. As the underdog, you always have the chance of surprising on the upside as well. Nobody expects you to do amazing things coming out of community college. However, if you go to Yale University and spend your parent’s $250,000 to get that degree, you better do something great, or else!
Let’s go through some common scenarios and discuss why it’s great to be the underdog.
ON THE JOB UNDERDOG
When you first start off at a new job, there is a tendency to show how knowledgeable and great you are. Don’t. It’s important to pay your dues and keep your special opinions to yourself until you have the complete trust of your colleagues. If you’re a low level employee driving to work in a fancy car, don’t. Why on earth would your boss ever promote and pay you if you seem to have all the money in the world? Your colleagues are going to be jealous and push you down. Instead, drive a beater or take public transportation.
You might know more than your senior colleagues, or at least think you know, but do not try and outshine them. Instead, use your knowledge to help them shine.
If you are making a substantial amount of money, or at least more so than your friends or colleagues, don’t ever tell them how much you make. Many a solid relationship has been lost over the knowledge of one’s income. It’s human nature to compare yourself to others, and if you’re making twice as much as your friend, your friend’s resentment will fester.
Instead, it’s important to give the impression that you make less than everyone you know. You will garner sympathy and nobody will see you as a threat. People will root for you, and when you offer to buy lunch, they will be extremely touched. If you’re wealthier than them and don’t offer to pay, they will resent you.
Unless you have obvious physical attributes which can’t be hidden i.e. 7 feet tall, make your opponent feel at ease and downplay your own skills. Talk about the injuries you’ve sustained as well as your embarrassing losses.
Do not mention that you train 5 times a week, played competitively in college, and can run a 4 minute mile. Instead, just mention that you’ve been playing for a long enough while to develop some seriously bad habits. When you’re going out with clients to play golf or tennis, for example, they will truly appreciate your humility and recognize your striking skills for what they are.
When you’re going out with a girl, never speak to her about your conquests (women, work, or otherwise). Obviously stay charismatic and confident, but downplay your success. She will find out your fantastic attributes eventually, making you more desirable since you didn’t have to brag about them in the first place.
For women, guys don’t want to hear about your conquests either! We don’t want to hear about how popular your are, or how many Facebook friends you have. We certainly don’t want to know that your ex-boyfriend was some hunky tycoon, well maybe. We just want to hear about you and your ambitions and dreams.
Let’s say you run a relatively popular blog that has over 100,000 page views a month. You will likely be inundated with e-mails and requests from people you don’t know, wanting you to pitch something on your site that you don’t care about or “guest post”. You’ve reserved the vast majority of your guest posts for friends in the community and you’ll get tired of politely declining random strangers.
By not revealing much about the statistics of your site, you’re able to spend time doing what you want to do and writing what you want to write. For people who really enjoy writing, this type of streamlining is what it’s all about. The advertisers will have tools to figure out what your metrics are, so don’t worry about income if you have this type of traffic.
If you are naturally witty, received straight A’s, and got a perfect SAT score, you are an anomaly. Given you are a rare breed, you will probably be more frustrated than average when people are slow to pick up things. Your intelligence will rub the average person the wrong way if you aren’t careful, and people will start thinking you’re arrogant, where in reality, you’re just born smart and can’t help it.
The good thing about being more intelligent than average is that you can dial your intelligence down to the appropriate setting. It’s harder to do the other way around. Try and lower knowledge to equal the rest of your peers even though you know more. For example, if you are an investment professional with a CFA/MBA with 15 years experience and some young gun is preaching to you about investments, just nod and smile. Of course if they are asking you for advice/help, feel free to help them out as much as possible.
YOU ARE SECRETLY THE “OVERDOG”
You may be stronger, smarter, faster, wealthier, better-looking than average, but your ego is kept in check and you don’t let anybody feel that you know you are in a superior position at the onset. Eventually they will find out, as they always do. However, in the meantime, you are busy doing your own thing and keeping humble.
The next time you feel like bragging about your great accomplishments think twice. Make sure you include others in your successes so as to deflect out-right self promotion. It’s often better to let your actions speak for you, or better yet, let others speak for you. When the time is right, make sure you do ask for what you want if you feel you are not being recognized.
Be the “overdog”, but act like the underdog. You’ll garner more success and feel more free if you do.
Readers, do you think there is an inverse relationship with self-confidence and how well you are doing vs. how often and loud you brag? What are the times when it’s beneficial to toot your own horn? What are some cultures, besides the Japanese culture, which encourages humility? Is there a solution to getting ahead, without bragging if you start from nowhere?
Photo: Sleepy Dog by Sam.