Why Being The Smartest Person in The Room is The Dumbest Thing You Can Be
I have never been the best at anything. I would spend a lot time growing up, imagining myself as someone I wasn’t. I would picture the talk shows and the interviews, and the inspiring stories my fictional self would share.
I grew up playing a lot of sports. Always okay, but never great.
I wasn’t unintelligent, but I’ve never been what you would consider academic.
Moving into adult life, I continued this mediocrity (decent education, decent job, decent books…). I’ve never been bad at anything, but I’ve never been great or the best.
So I would imagine it, and play out these ‘dream interviews’ in my mind.
I hoped to be the ‘smartest’ and ‘best’ in the room, but now I appreciate how dumb this is.
Why Being ‘Smart’ is Not That Smart
They say “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
I’ve heard this quote a lot over the years, but I never really appreciated it.
It seemed like the sort of thing you say to make yourself feel better (and to justify your mediocrity). It seemed like a cop-out, but I now know it’s one of the wisest mantras you can live by.
I began to realise this when I interviewed 150+ people for my latest book. I met folks like Jayson Gaignard who literally lives and dies by this motto (it’s the slogan for his epic conference, Mastermind Talks).
It didn’t click into place straight away, but that’s how life often goes — you hear something a lot, but it takes a while before it makes sense (before it’s relevant to ‘you’).
So why is being so smart so dumb?
Well I ask you to imagine what life would be like, if you entered every room knowing you were the best-of-the-best. Would this fulfil you? Would this make you happy? Would such superiority make you complete, and better than everyone else?
Or would it massage your ego into an unstoppable force?
Would it make you complacent and force you to take your eye off the ball?
After all, isn’t this how the likes of Blockbuster and Kodak slipped into oblivion after dominating their industry for decades?
Is this not how the talented sporting wonderkid of their generation burst onto the scenes, only to fizzle into nothing (I look at you, Freddy Adu)?
How Ego Really is Your Enemy
The smartest person in the room is the only one in it incapable of learning.
As the smartest person in the room, you are ‘it’.
What comes after ‘it’… how are you supposed to motivate yourself to be better, if you’re already the best?
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s how dangerous complacency can be. Most people make mistakes (and fail), not when they’re taking risk and pushing the boundaries, but when they sit back and relax.
Worst of all, you’re blinded from the fact because you’re the ‘best’; you’ve already made it.
And while you’re sat on your throne, enjoying the view, someone below you (learning from you, motivated and inspired by you) is ready to knock you off it.
That may have been you once, but not anymore.
Now, you’re blinded by your ego, protected in a bubble you created for yourself.
I didn’t think I had much of an ego, personally. I’m rather private, shy, and reserved, so you don’t associate ego with a guy like me. You look at the confident person; the outspoken one.
But then I read ‘Ego is Your Enemy’ by Ryan Holiday, and I realised how egotistical I am.
All those hours I wasted picturing myself as the best… it was my ego. I didn’t feel worthy enough being average, so I dreamed about being superior; about being someone different.
Of course, this didn’t make me any better at sports. It didn’t make me any smarter. It didn’t take me any closer to those talk shows and interviews.
But it made me feel better about me, which in turn fed my ego a five-course meal of ignorance.
How To Enter a New (better) Room
Lucky for you and me, there’s always a room with someone smarter than you.
It’s easier to stick to what you know. There’s comfort surrounding yourself with people further behind.
But what does this achieve?
It’s like hanging out with a bunch of seven-year-olds, and feeling pride when you outscore them on a test.
You’re smarter than them, but are you a better version of ‘you’?
And this is the point. This is the true lesson I have learned, and this is why I no longer (most of the time) worry about not being the smartest person in the room.
Because ‘this’ (and when I say ‘this’, I mean this life I’m living) isn’t about meeting a certain standard or ticking a specific box. It’s about me being the best ‘me’ I can be.
I won’t achieve this as the smartest person in the room. The only way I will is if I continue to learn, grow, and strive for better.
And there’s a room for that, but it isn’t the one I’ve spent my life in until now.
I still catch myself daydreaming at times, and my ego continues to fight me most days. It’s scared. It’s worried. It’s frightened about being average, and that we’ll never be enough.
But we are enough, and we’ll remain this way so long as we learn, grow, and strive for better. Not a better number, or a better job, or a better social standing… simply a better version of ‘me’.
It’s out there, in rooms where I feel small and inadequate. All I have to do is open the door and enter.