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5 Benefits of Being an Underdog

Ravi Rajan is a program director working in India. He writes articles on management, creativity, and positive psychology techniques

The key to being successful at anything is to be an underdog. Yes, despite the negativity associated with the word ‘underdog’, there is something special about being an underdog.

The key to being successful at anything is to be an underdog. Yes, despite the negativity associated with the word ‘underdog’, there is something special about being an underdog.

An Underdog Is a Hungry Dog

Jason Kelce, the iconic Super Bowl champion made an inspiring statement to his players when the Eagles finally won the Super Bowl in 2018,

“You’re a bunch of underdogs! And you know what an underdog is? It’s a hungry dog…. And hungry dogs run faster! … Bottom line is, we wanted it more.”

That said, what is common between J.K.Rowling, Walt Disney, and Oprah Winfrey?

They all started as underdogs who later became super successful in their respective fields.

Rowling was a single mom struggling to earn for her family, living in a small apartment with her daughter. Rowling had no job and no money, and her writings were rejected by publishers countless times. But she didn’t give up. She set her foot down and wrote one of the longest-lasting bestsellers in the world, the Harry Potter series. And the rest, we know is history.

Walt Disney was told that he ‘lacked imagination and had no good ideas. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Later, Disney decided to try his luck in Hollywood where he founded the Disney Brothers’ Studios which went on to win 22 academy awards in the first year.

And who can ever forget Oprah Winfrey? According to a Baltimore TV producer, Oprah was 'unfit for television news; and 'too emotionally invested in her stories'. However, eventually, she started hosting ‘'The Oprah Winfrey Show’', which made her one of the most popular and richest African American woman people in the world.

As an Underdog, You Have Nothing to Lose

As an Underdog, You Have Nothing to Lose

As an Underdog, You Have Nothing to Lose

That said, despite the negativity associated with the word ‘underdog’, there is something special about being an underdog. Being someone who is not considered competitive or worth looking at considerably reduces the anxiety of performing well as compared to a ‘top dog’. And this very lack of expectations is the biggest strength of an underdog.

After all, as an underdog, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Nobody will have any expectations from you and this low expectation works in your favor as you catch your bigger opponents napping when they consider you second-rate and discount your presence while focusing on other competitors. And, of course, it always keeps you humble and grounded.

And each one of us from the ultra-successful to the no-so-successful has well-defined underdog moments in our lives. What is important is what you choose to do with them. Do you squander that opportunity and quit, or do you rise steadily again and fight the demons that are keeping you down? The choice is entirely yours. These are the moments that make or break you.

And here are some ways in which you can make the best use of your underdog moments and come out shining with all guns blazing.

1. An Underdog Mindset Is Transformational
2. It Helps to Prioritize Your Goal
3. You Work smarter
4. You Identify but don’t tolerate problems
5. It’s not about winning

1. An Underdog Mindset Is Transformational

I am sure everyone is familiar with the timeless story of David and Goliath. it's a story about the weak beating the powerful with the help of pluck and guile and sheer blind faith.

So far so good. But let me ask you a question. Who do you want to become?

I am sure most of you would say, Goliath. And why not? Goliath is the top dog. He was a natural fighter and he was feared across the world for his awesome strength and ruthlessness. Nobody had any chance against him.

But David wins in the end and that is where lies our conundrum. We want David to win but don’t want to be like him. And the biggest mistake we often make is that we try to be someone whom we cannot be. We ignore our inner strengths; we ignore our existing skills and we run after the superhuman strength of Goliath that we can never get. And this becomes the reason for our failures, frustrations, and disappointments.

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So, change the mindset first. Dare to be a David rather than a Goliath. If we want to go through the pain of transforming ourselves into something new — something better, we cannot take the path of least resistance. We need to choose our weapons carefully and play to our strengths (Remember, how David slung Goliath to death rather than fighting heads-on with him). Be yourself.

2. It Helps to Prioritize Your Goal

While you can aspire to have anything, you want in this world, you cannot have everything you want. That is the brutal truth of life. Finding that one thing you badly want isn’t always easy, because it compels you to answer an important question.

What is the ONE thing I want which makes all other things unnecessary?

Choosing a goal often means rejecting a lot of things to stay focused. Most people often fail at this point even before they have started. And the reason is that they try to pursue too many goals all at once, achieving none of them in the process. By asking yourself a focused question, you're taking the first step from being a person with a dream to a person who wants to make that ONE dream a reality.

The key is not to get discouraged and paralyzed with all the choices available. Make your choice and get on with it. Once you have your goal in place, it will force you to grow because you achieved that goal yet. But you would want to become that person one day who has successfully achieved it and that eggs you on.

3. You Work Smarter

Remember David? David, with his simple slingshot, manages to defeat the massively armed giant Goliath.

Therefore, if you are an underdog, you simply can't outgun the competition. So, working smarter is the only option. While there are no clear-cut rules available in a hardbound book to work smarter, the gist is to do something creative that goes beyond the traditional time-tested ways of working. Above all, working smarter requires innovation and resourcefulness, and a determination to stretch beyond convention.

Take Steve Jobs for example. Jobs saw an opportunity for innovation as the music industry struggled mightily to thwart the efforts of music file-sharing sites like Kazaa and Napster which were helping Internet-savvy music lovers share music illegally. When he launched the iPod MP3 in 2001, he also struck an agreement with five major record labels to offer legal, easy-to-use, and flexible a la carte music downloads for as little as 99 cents each. And iTunes was born as a result. Kazaa and Napster didn't even know what hit between their eyes!!!

Remember, the basic difference between the No. 1’s and the other Nos of the world is only one,

“Do the right thing. Look for new ways. Change the rules.”

Identify but Don't Tolerate Problems

Identify but Don't Tolerate Problems

4. You Identify but Don't Tolerate Problems

Don’t avoid confronting problems because they are rooted in harsh realities. Yes, realities are not easy to look at but not thinking about them (or pushing them under the carpet) is a sure-shot recipe for disaster.

And when a problem comes due to your lack of understanding or weakness, you will feel shame and that is natural. Get over it. Acknowledging your weakness is not the same as surrendering to it. The pain and remorse you are feeling are 'growing' pains that you need to ignore as a side effect of becoming a better version of yourself.

And the next important thing after identifying a problem is not to tolerate it. The key is to cultivate a strong inner character and the will to succeed at any cost. You need to have a fierce thick skin of intolerance to problems of any kind, regardless of their severity.

5. It's Not About Winning

If you change your mindset and take on the persona of an underdog, you will find that it’s not about winning.

Too many people and our society at large see winning as a definition of success. Yes, winning is sweet, but it does not define success. Success is all about whether the pursuit of the goal has improved you or not and winning just happens to be a by-product of that.

If you only see winning as a benchmark of success, then you deplete yourself of the ability to reward and recognize improvements and that leads to stagnation and complacency.

And once you succeed, with success comes satisfaction and a lot of it. While satisfaction is good, too much of it leads to complacency. If you win, you cannot afford to be complacent.

Remember how Goliath taunted David "Come to me that I might feed your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field.”. He paid the price with his life in the end.

You need to continuously challenge yourself and be willing to be the underdog all over again. Because the moment you lose that edge, you'll risk becoming the top dog. And top dogs are prey to the underdog. Remember, success is a vicious, unrelenting, poisonous mistress most of the time. So, it is never a good idea to stew in your own juices.

That’s why Steve Jobs has rightly said.

“Stay hungry, stay foolish."


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Ravi Rajan

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