Not the Smartest Person in the Room

I’ve been asked a few times to name one game-changing thing I did to help myself. Easy question: I sought out people MUCH smarter than I who were directionally aligned with me. This changed my trajectory, and it’s something most people can do.

Directional alignment was key, and it required me to think about where I want to be in 10, 15, and 20 years. I didn’t get granular and say I want to be at X place by Y date; I kept it high-level. When I was thinking of leaving corporate America, I decided I wanted to build a company and be an entrepreneur. I didn’t want to be shady or exploitative. I wanted to be successful while treating others the way I wanted to be treated. Super high-level; clear direction.

Once I knew where I was headed, I looked for groups of people smarter than I was. Some, like EO, were formal. Others were informal. I’ll admit this was tough to do. I was very uncomfortable when I first interacted with these groups. I was used to being at the top of my game. I’d done well in school and ranked high among my peers in the corporate world. I soon learned how big my knowledge gap was!

I was inexperienced and embarrassed when I couldn’t answer questions about topics that were basic in these circles. I often had no idea what they were talking about and experienced imposter syndrome. I powered through it, though. I noted things I was unfamiliar with and Googled them later. I had one-off conversations with people to dive deeper into specific topics. I eventually realized that when I was uncomfortable, it meant I was learning. Over time I became comfortable being uncomfortable.

Smart people introduced me to many new things and better ways of doing old things. Over time, I formed great relationships with many of them. Looking back, I see how critical my decision was. These groups helped fill my knowledge and relationship gaps, which gave me more opportunities to be successful.