Have you ever noticed how really smart, really creative people often totally underestimate themselves?
I see this in my work pretty much every day. I meet people who are brilliant thinkers, good writers, creative, passionate people who say things like:
- “There are plenty of good musicians out there… the world doesn’t need me.”
- “I would love to ______, but I don’t have the time, the energy or the money.”
- “If only I were like [fill-in-the-blank], I could be successful someday.”
- “I want to write a book or make music or build furniture, but so-and-so is already doing it.”
They are constantly under-playing themselves, staying small, talking themselves out of their dreams have and suffocating their creativity by comparing themselves to other people.
If I’m honest, I have to admit I do this, too.
It’s a habit I’ve tried to break, but I find myself slipping into it every now and then, especially when I’m tired, or when I’ve invested myself into a project and I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. All the statements I listed above are things I’ve said to myself.
But even more than that, I find myself living out of the following totally powerful, but completely untrue belief systems:
- Success is only reserved for certain kinds of people—and I’m not one of them.
- No matter how long or hard I work, it’s not likely I’ll achieve the things I want in life.
- If only I were more talented, or more business-savvy, or quicker-on-my-feet (less like myself) I would be more successful.
- Maybe, someday, I’ll catch a “big break” and that will change everything
- Success is mostly about luck. I wish I were lucky like those other people.
When I think about it—and get really honest with myself, I realize there is a really distinct reason why I do this.
These beliefs are protections against disappointment and rejection.
There Are No Guarantees
One of the hardest parts about dreaming is we don’t have any way to know if the things we imagine for ourselves will ever become a reality. We have no way to know if what we most want will ever be close enough to grasp.
You can want to be married, want to own your own business, want to write a book, want to make the New York Times Bestsellers list, want to have children, want to own a home, want to be a millionaire, or want to move to another country—but will you ever get those things?
There’s no way to know for sure. There are no guarantees.
Learning not to underestimate ourselves requires learning to deal with rejection, to accept disappointment, to be open to redirection and to know, no matter what happens, life is better when we live aligned with our authentic selves.
Living open to our potential gives us a ton of freedom—but it also leaves us incredibly vulnerable.
So what if this is you—how can you stop?
If you are a smart, creative person and you find yourself constantly underestimating your potential (In other words, if you’re sitting here reading this, thinking, “Oh, I’m not that smart or that creative…”) this next part is for you.
Here are a few things you can do to shift your reality and live in line with your truth.
Agree that Choosing to Believe in Your Limitless Potential is Not Arrogant
Choosing to believe our potential is limitless is not an arrogant way to live, although a lot of sensitive, creative people tend get trapped in this belief. Choosing to believe in your limitless potential is the most incredibly humbling way to live.
When you admit your limitless potential, you leave yourself open for disappointment and heartbreak. You submit yourself to the laws and realities of the Universe—which means acknowledging your health, your surroundings, other’s behavior, and other important factors to the actualization of your dreams, are out of our hands.
This change. Dreams change. Life is unfolding. There are no guarantees.
Additionally, choosing to believe in our limitless potential means we are willing to put in the work to make the life we imagine for ourselves become a reality. It means we abandon the damaging ideas about success being reserved for a select few, or resources being limited or the idea of a “big break” coming our way.
We begin to embrace our own power and potential to shift and shape our circumstances.
That’s a hard, humbling pill to swallow. But admitting you play a role in your circumstances is the only way to embrace the power you have to change them.
Embrace the Power of Your Own Intuition
Advice is good. Those who have gone before us certainly have insight to offer us that we couldn’t have on our own.
The advice of experts can help direct us to become our best selves.
But too many smart, creative people lean on the intuition of others when their own intuition is pointing them down a unique or not-so-logical path.
Don’t ignore your own intuition just because you can’t make sense of it right away. Instead, grow in your ability to listen to yourself, to experiment and to learn from your own failures. Your intuition doesn’t always tell you the right answer, but it does always tell you something—and that something can be a gift to you, if you’re willing to see it that way.
Don’t ignore the gift of your intuition.
Embrace the Uniqueness of Yourself
One of the most damaging things we do as creatives is look to our right and look to our left, comparing ourselves, our lives and our projects to the people around us.
Not only will this take us off track, it will limit us—limit our potential.
It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
There’s a quote I love from Martha Graham that sums this up perfectly. She says, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.”
She goes on to to say, “It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
Finally, she says, “You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction, whatsoever, at any time. There is only.. a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
Join me in a commitment to quit limiting myself, playing small, comparing myself to other people or downplaying my gifts to appear more humble.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to underestimate myself anymore.
26 thoughts on “Why Smart, Creative People Underestimate Themselves and How to Quit”
I wanted to take a moment and thank you for wonderful post that you wrote today on learning to overcome negative thinking. Like you, I have fought with this for years. I cannot say that I have overcome the tendency, but I feel that I’m on my way to establishing my place in the world of fiction. It took a lot for me to shell out a thousand dollars and get my first book self-published. Because I’m an unknown quantity, several publishers and agents told me to start by getting the book out for others to read. I took their advice. Now I’m looking at meeting with two publishers in November to present my detective mystery/thrillers for possible publication. I never would have gotten here without some positive thinking and believing in myself.
I have been on your mailing list now for about three months and have enjoyed reading your posts. I look forward to each one knowing I’ll get a positive thought to carry with me each day. And I pray that you keep positive and writing those things that help other people feel good about themselves.
Herb, this is such an inspiring story! More writers need to think about their writing lives like this. Thank you so much for sharing.
This is the pep talk I needed this morning!
Good! I’m so glad.
“Agree that Choosing to Believe in Your Limitless Potential is Not Arrogant” – I get stuck on this often. Thanks for the kick in the pants.
You’re welcome! It’s a kick in the pants for me, too. Thanks for sharing.
when i was younger i truly believed in my “unlimited potential”, but was told by all those around me that i was being arrogant and silly. so i stifled it for years and was miserable. i am just recently again embracing my potential, though i keep it to myself now. needless to say, I’m happy and doing better than ever.
What a great warning to those who come behind you, and also a beautiful reminder it is never too late for us to embrace our authentic selves and step into joy. Thank you for sharing, Mariel. I appreciate it.
Can’t thank you enough. I’ve got a good idea but am paralyzed by…….this!
“…downplaying myself to appear more humble.” Ouch! But true. Underestimating ourself does no one any good, least of all ourselves. And it’s tiring to boot.
A tough habit to break, but you’re right, the habit is one that needs to be broken.
I couldn’t have read anything more perfect yesterday morning to help me digest my own feelings. As always, spot on. And oh so timely.
I’m so glad! Thanks Sarah.
Thanks so much for your encouragement! I think choosing to believe in our limitless potential is a God thing, because we were made in His image, and He is by nature creative, which means so are we!
Thank you for this. I choked up while reading it. I’ve been feeling stuck and very discouraged lately, especially when it comes to writing and chasing my dreams. I’ve allowed myself to get to this place by not believing in myself and not letting myself be vulnerable, open to rejection and disappointment. I catch myself thinking, “Well, you can’t fail if you don’t bother trying.” I think the root of my inaction is fear of failure and a struggle to believe that what I have to say is worth saying. I have worlds and stories inside me that I often want so badly to share in the hope that it may move someone the way so many others’ stories have moved me, but then the self-doubt creeps in again and says, “That’s not unique or special, and no cares what you have to say. No one would want to read that.” It’s comforting to know that there are others out there who feel this way too. I guess it gives me hope that it’s something that can be overcome, so thank you again for this encouragement.
Thank you so much for this, Allison! As I was reading it I felt like you were speaking directly to me and I couldn’t discount either the conviction or the encouragement. The way you wrote it made it all very palatable, which is extremely helpful, because I think another thing creative people do is tell themselves that they’re the exception. Like, “This doesn’t apply to me because _______.” Your wisdom went directly to my heart. I’m looking forward to reading and hearing more from you about the writing/creative process.
So very generous of you. Great stuff. I like the way you write because you do it with compassion, empathy and brilliant insight. Keep it going. 😉
Preach it to me girl! You stole the words from my lips… I have felt and still feel these same things. Thank you for reminding me, us, that they are lies and that we are worthy. Worthy to be used for all the good that we were created for and to stop thinking we are prideful when we dream big. Wow… just, thank you !
Now, I may need to you repeat this tomorrow.
I am 18 years old. This is something I have been struggling with for a long time. I am a poet, designer, artist, painter, photographer. I am an overall creative and no matter how much people tell me this, I never believe them or in my self for that matter. I simply see them as hobbies or something to pass time. I have been trying to change this negative mindset of mine and this is really helpful. I have a lot of unfinished projects because I feel that they are never food enough. I get scared to share my works with people. Now I am going to through a tough time because I haven’t created any form of art in months. I feel like I am losing my creativity and I am too young to be worrying about this. I needed guidance and I have decided to change my mindset. Thanks again for this article because I am finally taking a bold step towards embracing my inner artist.
This is what I m going through with. Every word is pushing my self to believe in my potential.
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