Being the most qualified, successful person in the room is a nice feeling and inspires confidence and motivation, but it doesn’t happen often. In fact, especially at a school like Notre Dame, students find themselves in the unusual position of competing for recognition and struggling to stand out. In places that gather the best from a population, it is hard to become the best of the best. However, I believe that being the underdog in these situations can be incredibly rewarding. There are certainly drawbacks, but overall people can find inspiration and strength from NOT being at the top.
Let’s start with a major con of being an underdog: imposter syndrome. It’s the feeling that you don’t truly belong where you are and have tricked everyone around you to get there. This is a little self-doubt earworm that is not easily removed once it plants itself in your brain. I certainly felt my fair share of imposter syndrome during freshman year. I believed that I was not supposed to be at Notre Dame and that sooner or later the people in my life would find this out. I was objectively doing fine in my classes, but I saw my friends and others around me doing amazing things with their lives. I worried that I would never be at this level.
But this was not reality. This was my own fear of being an underdog and not knowing how to handle it. I thought being near the bottom of the pack was a strictly negative thing and a reflection of my own abilities. This had less to do with me, however, and more to do with the quality of the people around me.
Framing your perception of the situation can change everything. Feeling threatened by talented people is completely normal, but what if you reframed this and changed your mindset? Try finding motivation from the people around you and using their successes as fuel for your fire. After all, if they can do it, why can’t you?
Not being the smartest or best in the room can actually be a huge advantage to personal growth and advancement. Learning from your environment can drive you forward and increase your own skillset and knowledge. When I felt imposter syndrome creeping in, instead of closing myself off from the people around me, I chose to listen. I observed what they were doing and listened to any tips they had. I suddenly found myself feeling inspired and striving to do bigger and better things.
Embracing the underdog position is powerful because it allows you to take control of your situation and path in life. You allow others to push you to a level you might not have even known you were capable of reaching. It also helps you to realize that it is ultimately not how you compare to others that matters, but how you compare to yourself yesterday. Aim to learn or try one new thing each day, and you’ll find constant personal improvement that will help you achieve your goals.
You got no fear of the underdog
That’s why you will not survive
-Spoon, “The Underdog”