Underestimated? Keep Betting on Yourself (and Prove Them Wrong)

When I was 19, I decided to run a marathon.

My plan was to raise money for a good cause (the Leukemia Society of America) and complete my first 26.2-miler in Dublin, Ireland.

I printed out my training schedule, got busy fundraising, and read all I could about what to see and do while in Dublin.

Most people in my life were supportive of my goal—quick to offer an encouraging word or make a donation.

But there’s always a cynic.

While my aunt was visiting, I told her about the race and asked if she would make a donation.

Honest opinions are rarely withheld in my family, and this was no exception:

Wait, you’re running a marathon? That’s a really intense and LONG race. I’ve volunteered at those races, and people struggle to finish. You don’t know what you’re getting into.

Never mind that I had been a long-distance runner throughout high school. Or that I was used to wracking up hefty mileage all summer long. Sure, not marathon-level training, but still. According to her, this was out of my league.

I was stunned.

SpongeBob SquarePants with a rainbow:

It’s hard to be underestimated. Even when criticism is gentle and justified. (And there’s plenty of critical feedback that’s useful and necessary, both personally and professionally.)

But it’s even harder when that criticism is targeting an important dream or goal. When the judgment is centered around YOU. As in—yes, of course, some people do this particular thing, but you? Nah. You aren’t cut out for this.

It feels personal and leaves you wondering…

 

“Why do people underestimate me?”

As much as it hurts to be underestimated, remember most doubters aren’t trying to be malicious. Here are a few reasons why people might misjudge you—and unfairly jump to skepticism, criticism, or negativity.

 

You’ve never done it before

Everyone has to start somewhere. Sure, you might make more mistakes when you’re trying something new. Maybe you’re naive to potential roadblocks.

But on the flip side?

When you’re new to something, you often have an open mind. You’re not jaded by past experiences gone wrong.

After I graduated college, I moved across the country to a state I’d never been, where I didn’t know a soul. I got more than a few raised eyebrows. A family friend predicted, “She’ll be back in 6 months.” Years later, I’m still here.

But he was right to be skeptical—I was brand new to adulting and completely starting over. It WAS hard. Like really, really hard. But what the skeptics forget is that mindset matters as much as experience—if not more (more on that below). Attitude, resilience, and determination can do a lot of heavy lifting.  

When you’re underestimated, remember inexperience does not equal incompetence.

 

People make unfair snap judgments

Unfortunately, it happens all the time. Folks quickly decide—without really knowing you—that something about you makes you unqualified or unable to do XYZ. (Which, btw, says more about them than it does about you and your abilities.)

You’re too quiet.

You’re too loud.

You’re not assertive.

You’re too aggressive.

While constructive feedback is helpful, don’t put too much weight on one person’s opinion. Sometimes you’re misjudged and other times a thoughtless comment crosses over into straight-up bias or discrimination.

 

They don’t know the work you’ve already done

Your critics don’t know what they don’t know. They have a limited view and your goal may sound audacious. But what if they knew the research you had done prior to starting your business? Or how you consistently worked on your project each day before your 9-to-5 job? Or that you had years of experience in another industry before your current career? That knowledge would likely influence their perspective.  

The bottom line? They just don’t know what you’re capable of.

Which might be because…

 

You’re not vocal about your accomplishments

If you’re like me and you cringe at the thought of talking up your accomplishments, you’re not alone. But also: It’s time to get over it.

Sure, no one wants to hang around a notorious bragger, but the ability to talk about your skills and achievements is essential—especially as you apply to collegeslook for your first job, or ask for that raise.

Get in the habit of tracking your accomplishments. Taking stock of your wins will not only help you in the above situations—it will also help you build confidence and stay positive when you face inevitable setbacks.

 

They’re underestimating you based on their own experience and not your ability

Everyone has their own baggage. When people underestimate you, it often isn’t about you at all.

People often project their own insecurities, limiting beliefs, or personal experiences on others.

My aunt’s experience volunteering at the finish line of a marathon gave her a window into the intensity and exhaustion of running such a long distance. Her reaction to my goal was less about me and more about her own lived experience. 

 

Misjudged? Here’s how to ignore the critics and keep betting on yourself

1. Take off the blinders

This starts with being brutally honest with yourself and asking good questions:

  • What will be challenging about my goal? How can I set myself up for success?
  • What are potential setbacks? How can I prepare?
  • What are my weaknesses? What new skills can I learn, or how can I improve?
  • Is there anything I can delegate to others? What kind of support would be beneficial? (Working with a mentor, coach, accountability partner or group, etc.)

Asking for feedback is a good thing—as long as you’re talking to the right people (i.e., not necessarily a family member but someone who has relevant expertise).

 

2. Lean into your strengths

What’s your superpower?

When I was training for my marathon, I was most confident in the mental game of long-distance running. I could count on my will and determination when my legs were completely dead. That’s what I relied on when I dreaded a long run or when I was nursing an injury.

Know what you’re good at and how to best leverage it toward your goal.

 

3. Mindset matters

 

Become a “journey” person. Your goal—the final destination—matters, but what you learn along the way matters more. Tap into a growth mindset:

 

4. Set concrete, actionable goals

Create a plan by working backward from your final destination. What steps do you need to take to get there? Detailed, specific milestones will help you achieve your ultimate goal. Goal setting theory argues that these small, short-term goals are key to performance and behavior change.

The problem for many of us is that we don’t take the time to get granular.

This also works for taking a more intentional approach to daily life—by reflecting on the past and what you want for the future. Try using something like the YearCompass to help you connect with past mistakes, successes, and dreams for the year.

 

5. Prove yourself (and prove them wrong)

Tweet by Ash Ambirge:

The best way to prove yourself? Show, don’t tell. Why waste time arguing with the doubters? Trust your gut and focus on the next steps. It’s easy to give unsolicited opinions. It’s harder to consistently do what you need to do each day. Showing up and making progress (no matter how minor) will move the needle—with your goal and others’ perceptions.

 

6. Build a Support Network

Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your dreams. Those who will remind you of your worth when you’re feeling down and celebrate your successes, no matter how small.

This goes beyond supportive friends and family. Look for communities online or IRL that share your goals and can offer encouragement and accountability.

For example, in my case, this could be a running club; for someone else it might be group of freelance writers or a mastermind for startup founders.

Find your people and remember to give back as much as you receive.

 

7. Stop asking for permission

Anyone else agonize a bit too much over the opinions of others? 🙋‍♀️ Is there value in seeking advice? Absolutely. But, too often, people chime in without being asked.

How you respond is up to you.

Take a minute and ask yourself: Why do I care? If someone underestimates you and ends up being right…so what?

There’s power in letting go of what other people think. Staying true to yourself and what you believe takes commitment (and is a lifelong struggle for a lot of us). But it’s also a prerequisite for living a meaningful life.

Related:

 

Being underestimated can fuel your motivation

Sometimes hearing that you can’t do something makes going for it that much more satisfying. 

Whatever your objective and regardless of the outcome, what you learn from the process and how you leverage it now (or in the future) is key.

Don’t sell yourself short. Be realistic, thoughtful, and just bold enough to block out the naysayers. Remember, there are plenty of people who love a good underdog story. Get to know those people:

As for me and my goal? After my bruised ego recovered, I *may* have stuck a photo of my aunt right next to my training schedule for a little extra motivation. 

I ended up raising nearly $5,000 for the Leukemia Society, soaked up the magic of Dublin, and finished my first marathon in 3 hours and 48 minutes. 

Qualified for the Boston Marathon a year later. 

And both times, my aunt cheered me on from afar.