Business Magazine

Uncomfortable: I’m Not the Smartest Person in the Room….

By Stacylrust

Creative Company Conference 2011

When we were little, my younger sister Samantha helped me learn a really important lesson…

Samantha is my stepsister and when our parents got married, we were pretty young. As I got to know her, I learned one really important thing about her… she’s not afraid to ask for help.

I always noticed this when we were talking to adults. If an adult would say a word that Sam didn’t know, she’d just ask them, “What does that word mean?”

Simple, right?

But, it struck me because it was something I wasn’t used to doing.

If I didn’t know what a word meant, I’d rack my brain trying to figure it out, look it up later when we got home, and beat myself up for not knowing.

I was living by the belief that I “should” know everything, and that it would be foolish to admit otherwise.

While I sat in silence and beat myself up, Sam would just ask, no big deal.

And, for me, that was huge.

Sam has carried this with her through her life, and it’s part of why she’s so successful. She’s not afraid to ask for help and she’s not afraid to admit when she doesn’t know something. Because she’s so quick to ask for help, she learns new things really quickly.

And, by behaving this way, she sends a message to the people around her that being smart and successful doesn’t mean you need to know every word in the dictionary. It means you’re willing to figure it out and adapt.

There’s something very liberating about asking a question like “what does that word mean?” It reminds us that we’re all human. It lightens everyone’s load just a little bit. By asking those questions, you take the pressure off the people around you to be perfect.

So, now each time I don’t know what a word means, I just ask. No matter the circumstances. And it’s amazing how the people around exhale just a little bit, their shoulders relax, and the conversation gets a little more honest.

Asking simple, genuine questions levels the playing field and helps people focus on the topic at hand, rather than just “sounding smart”. It’s grounding.

This is especially important when you’re the boss. As a leader, it’s your job to make others feel at ease with asking questions, finding answers, and reaching out for help.

During a summer in college, I had the privilege of working for the BBC in London. It was an incredible job, and I was thrilled to be hired. On my very first day, I walked in and my boss showed me to my desk. She gave me a few minutes to get comfortable.

I unpacked my bag, and went to check my email. But, I couldn’t find the power button on the computer. I spent a full 10 minutes trying to figure out how to turn on my computer before I gave up. I felt so stupid and embarrassed. It was my first day, I couldn’t possibly ask a question like, “um… how do I turn on this computer?” But, I finally had to ask my boss for help. She laughed and said she had the same problem when she first started and was happy to know someone as “young and tech-savvy” as myself also had trouble.

I was so relieved. And from that day forward, she and I felt comfortable asking each other anything.

And really… who cares? Everyone has trouble with computers.

I used to have an attachment to being the “smartest person in the room”. I felt really uncomfortable not knowing something. But, I’ve learned that’s the fastest way to frustration and anxiety. So, I’m learning to let it go.

If you take a look at the world’s highest achievers, you’ll notice that they all make a point to surround themselves with people who have skillsets that they don’t have. They are quick to ask questions, and recognize the importance of learning from other team members. It’s how we grow as individuals and as organizations.

It can be profoundly uncomfortable to reach out for help, to put together a team of people with skills you don’t have, to not be the smartest person in the room. But, it’s one of those things that separate those who achieve their dreams from those who stay on the sidelines.

Get in the habit of asking for help, there’s nothing that will catapult your success faster.

Photo Credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg via photopin cc


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