Ever felt like the only dummy in the room?

Hi again, Olives!

(Are so totally over that name yet?)

When I first started my job at the Wisconsin State Senate for the Sergeant-At-Arm’s office, I was thrilled…and then immediately terrified.

Okay… yes, I totally made my boyfriend write down directions, figure out the bus route, and pass, and ride into the city with me during one of our last days of Winter Break. I even walked around the Capitol to make sure I could find the office. We ended the day with lunch at the upscale (and expensive) burger joint; DLUX, to discuss how we were going to survive these first couple of months in the big city of real adulthood.

Fast forward to my first day, which went without a hitch.  Although if you know me, I was totally overdressed (it happened to be a dress down day–the one and only thus far–and I hadn’t gotten the memo) and completely sweaty from all the nerves. Everyone was beyond kind and helpful.

In the coming weeks, I began to chat with my co-workers and got to know them a little better. It was immediately clear, I was in a room with people who were going somewhere.

Let me elaborate. Speaking with my coworkers I learned what they had accomplished already, planned to accomplish in the future and projects they currently had in the works. I work with a UW-Madison student who is graduating in May with a double major and double minor in three years. No small feat. Another who worked in D.C. and although I don’t remember the specifics of his employment (not that he could discuss them anyways), I know it involved a level two security clearance. Wow. I spoke with a passionate and lively girl who was studying for her CPA after landing a job doing consulting work for a big company in Chicago. In addition to her CPA studies, she was creating a website to connect African women to the black community here in the states, hoping to foster a better understanding of their culture where she felt the interweb lacked relevant information. Others have impressive and mind blowing internships and experience in political offices. Others have worked on campaigns making an impressive hourly wage for a young professional. Every morning one of my coworkers, Dan, does the USA Today crossword puzzle before most of us can finish our coffee. After, he usually allows me to have the photocopied page to use throughout the day as scratch paper. Generous!

I felt like the dumbest person in the room. The least accomplished, the least well read, the least informed, and certainly the worst at crossword puzzles. But, what I came to realize was that I was a perfectionist who had a hard time giving myself the credit I deserve. If your own self-worth is low, being a room with people you perceive as being more successful than yourself, can feel threating. So, I made a conscious effort to change the way I thought about my position and contribution to the room. Since I was sitting in the same office as the security clearance guy, the girl who made $20+ dollars an hour working on a campaign and the kid graduating in three years, it meant that I belonged. Why is it that we can quickly convince ourselves we are not good enough, yet doing the opposite requires deep thought, attention to, and retraining of our thought processes?

Olives,  I’m here to tell you, that you belong too! You are good enough, smart enough and [insert whatever else you think you aren’t here] enough too!

While doing some reading on the topic, I stumbled across this shimmering piece of advice:

“Beginning your first year of college, entering graduate school, and starting a new job are all times when the expertise curve can feel alpine. Second-guessing yourself (“Who made a mistake and admitted/hired me?”) comes naturally to some of us, even, or perhaps especially, to super-high achievers. But when you’re on the upslope of learning, life is rich and exhilarating (Rachel Toor, 2011).”

Did you catch that last part?

Learning, whether it be from our co-workers, literary sources, professors, mentors, or the like, is what makes growing in our 20s enriching and exciting! (Telling myself, “rich and exhilarating… not scary…)

You know that saying by Marissa Mayer, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room?” I’m embracing this mantra a lot lately! I hope you will too!

Challenge yourself, take chances, and get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

-Sarah

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