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My goal is to be the dumbest person in the room.

In Portland recently, I grabbed some beers with Nate Green, a writer and fitness leader that I respect. We were talking about the fitness industry as a whole and discussing why we both decided to leave personal training. Nate currently works for Precision Nutrition as their marketing and ideas guy. I took the career switch in a different way entirely and hopped on board at Automattic.

Nate was asking me why I felt the need to leave the fitness industry entirely. Why not just work in corporate fitness or for a fitness company of some sort doing something other than personal training? After all, that would have gotten me out of a commission-based income while still keeping me in a field that I really do enjoy. My answer was that I needed to feel like the dumbest person in the room again.

That seemed a bit cliché. Everyone uses the phrase “dumbest person in the room” to describe the benefit of consistently being surrounded by smarter individuals. But, I think it means far more than being the person with the least amount of knowledge or experience.

I worked in the fitness industry for seven years, which isn’t too long at all. There certainly are thousands upon thousands of trainers that have worked in the industry for 20+ years. I was fortunate during those seven years to meet and work with some truly outstanding folks. I was also able to travel to quite a few conferences and listen to the top minds in the field discuss up and coming topics.

One day, I remember sitting in a small conference room listening to someone else give a presentation. The topic of the talk was surrounding how to assist your clients through the weight loss process. The talk definitely wasn’t high level. Most of the trainers in the room were very familiar with the information on the slides.

During that presentation, I found myself completely disengaged from the presenter. Rather than listening to him speak, I was thinking inside my own head about how I would do it better or why I would do it differently. It was almost like I was waiting for a slight break or a question session so I could prove how much smarter I was than him.

This desire to show-up your colleagues isn’t just present in the fitness industry. I just used it as an example.

I know I wasn’t the only one that felt the need to demonstrate how smart I was that day. In a field like fitness, part of the road to success is to build a name and a reputation for yourself. Ergo, there’s a drive for trainers to prove that they know more than their colleagues.

What a shitty mindset.

The “Dumbest Person” Mentality

Part of my drive to switch careers was propelled by my desire to feel like I didn’t know it all again. The know-it-all mentality isn’t good for anyone. It shortchanges the industry because there’s less constructive conversation. It shortchanges you as an individual because you’re too immersed in your own awesomeness that you fail to consider the valuable additions of others. It shortchanges your clients and customers because your product/service may fail to improve.

It’s easy to misinterpret the “dumbest person” advice to mean you have to be the individual with the least amount of experience or knowledge in the room/company. To me, it doesn’t mean that at all. Instead, it means:

You’re open to change. You’re open to the idea that perhaps your way isn’t the right way 100% of the time.

You listen to others. They probably have something valuable to say that you may not have thought of.

You’re constantly learning. Mastery isn’t the goal. Constant improvement is.

You recognize the importance of a team. You aren’t the most important person in your career field or industry. Sometimes, you need to sacrifice personal pride for the benefit of the group and to put out a better product.

You definitely do not have to switch career fields to experience this mindset, and like I said before, it has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence. It just requires a different, unselfish way of thinking.

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