Through most of college, my peers underestimated me. If I had to pinpoint a reason, it might’ve been that they equated cheerful and blonde with unintelligent.
It also didn’t help that I was clumsy, always breaking toes or slipping and tripping and dropping my phone. By the time I graduated, summa cum laude with a GPA that topped 3.9, I would get confused reactions. “You? Wow.”
I wasn’t alone. When I moved to the Deep South, I realized that entire regions can be underestimated. In 2005, Alabama had a booming economy, it was adding jobs faster than other regions and it was attracting high-tech talent who flocked there for the warm weather, and in the case of Mobile, the turquoise beaches. You’d never know it, though, from the reactions and jokes I got from Northerners about the place.
So, when defense manufacturer EADS-North America said it would put an aircraft engineering center in Mobile, Ala., it shocked people as far north as Seattle and touched off celebrations of affirmation in the gulf coast city.
As a collective people, the southerners had been underestimated. And, they’d proven the world wrong.
Compliments seem sweeter when they come from a skeptic. Once, I showed up scrambling to a reporting assignment — I was new to Seattle and I’d gotten lost trying to find a building below the Fremont bridge. When I arrived, I saw the photographer from my newspaper leaving the building.
“Which way?” I asked, out of breath.
“In there. I just finished and they’re ready for you,” he said.
“Sorry,” I called out while sprinting off, “I couldn’t find this place!”
The next day, he told my editors upon seeing my article: “When I saw her running, I thought, ‘Oh, another new reporter, she won’t last long.’ But then, when I read her article, I thought, ‘That girl can write!'”
This compliment stuck with me, and reminded me of my near-miss with this photographer’s esteem. Had I not given that article my all on deadline, his opinions about me might’ve become conclusions.
Assuming the worst of your opponent can be lethal in war-fighting, costly in business and humiliating in politics. People underestimate others to their own detriment.
When the world underestimates you — and, if you are doing something worthwhile, it nearly always will — just keep doing your best. Keep showing up.