How Being the Smartest in the Room is Doing a Disservice to Your Growth


They say if you're the smartest in the room, then you're in the wrong room. This past weekend I was able to fully digest that thought.

In a world where almost everyone aspires to be thought leaders in their field, it's hard to find anyone willing to not be the smartest. Demanding respect has come on account of appearing to know it all. With the rise of social media, people go to great lengths to portray excellence, even amidst great brokenness. It's as if the only way to secure your space in such a competitive market, is to be the smartest. To know it all. To be all things.

When a group of high school friends and I planned to get together for what we called a Think Tank, I was excited to be in a room with others who were passionate about pursuing purpose outside of our workspace. Three of the four of us were working on building non-profit organizations. Having worked in the non-profit sector previously, I knew that there was loads of guidance I could offer; I wasn't quite sure the same could be returned.

I am the only content curator in the group. The only one whose brand isn't mainly rooted in programming, but in upliftment through the use of story-telling and principles of spirituality. See, my work is slightly different. Aside from my holiday homeless initiative, much of my work is about breaking down people's walls and rebuilding them—internally. The self-work I inspire is hard to capture and much harder to explain. I wasn't sure how my friends—who all dedicate their brands to giving back to the community in ways that are much easier to track, through financial and in-kind contributions—could offer me counsel for a brand that essentially does the opposite.

Regardless, I went in with optimism. As we all went around the room and explained what we were up to, I was reminded of the differences of our approaches. Listening to my friends share their programming ideas and fundraising goals was both exciting and discouraging. I didn't have anything so grand; shoot, I was still struggling to identify ways to measure impact (which is my biggest assessment of whether or not my content is actually producing change in the lives of women).

I walked in thinking I'd be the smartest—or at least like I'd have the most to offer—based solely on my previous knowledge and experience in non-profit work and their unfamiliarity with the realm of content curation. I left, however, appreciative that I didn't. In fact, after our meeting, I felt like I needed to head back to the drawing board, to address my inability to capture the essence of my brand, something I had no idea was a problem of mine. I couldn't break down DEAR QUEENS with confident clarity like my friends could with their endeavors. It was in that realization that I recognized the beauty of what we were doing. 

Despite them not knowing much about content curation, they were able to provide insight that I'd long needed. Insight that I probably wouldn't have received anywhere else but in that room. 

My friends unknowingly inspired me to dig deeper into a brand that I swore was already complete. They unintentionally pushed me to ask myself the hard questions, to truly uncover what in the broadness I really wanted to conquer. They unconsciously motivated me to be very clear about the direction I wanted to take DEAR QUEENS, and the ways in which I was going to take her there.

None of us were the smartest in the room that day. None of us knew more than the other. None of us offered more or less—we all simply offered different.

As much as society wants to encourage you to know it all, you simply cannot. You'd be doing a disservice to yourself to fill your room with a bunch of people just like you, doing the same thing as you, knowing the same thing as you, for the sake of having a conversation rooted in similarity. There's much more insight in our differences. There is far more wisdom in our diversity. There is incredible growth in our ability to tap into our individual experiences and expertise for the sake of sharing with others. And once you eliminate your desire to be the smartest in the room by accepting the dissimilarities of your associates, you'll be able to experience the true beauty of collaborative thought and constructive feedback.

When you're the smartest in the room—or at least when you perceive yourself to be—you shut yourself off from learning. You deny yourself the opportunity to connect with minds that can take you to new heights. You refuse yourself the resources needed to grow yourself, and/or your brand. You assume that no one in the same space as you can offer you anything additional. And as flattering as it may feel to already be equipped with all the knowledge you need, you risk being stagnant by not exploring the thoughts of others. By not allowing your ideas to be questioned, and holes to be poked in your theories. By not wanting to be exposed to new thoughts that could improve your own.

So never rush to be the smartest in the room just so you can secure a seat at the table. Instead, recognize that your greatest contribution lies not in being the 'smartest' but in providing a different perspective. Learn to rest in the beauty of not being the 'smartest', and welcome insight from others. And learn to be okay in spaces where everyone is just as smart as, or smarter, than you. Because sis, great lessons are learned there.

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