Big Lie #2: I’m Not Smart Enough

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Today, I’m sharing part two in my 7 part series entitled “The 7 Lies That Keep Us From Success.”

Check out the first big lie here.

Now, on to the second big lie that holds us back in art, business and life…

I’m not smart enough. There are a million smarter, more qualified and credentialed people and companies that do the same thing. People want the best and I’m not the best, so why bother?

Rather than make this another rah-rah, you’re so cool confidence-building session, let’s do something a bit radical. Here’s the thing, you may well be right. At least about you not being the smartest fish in the pond. You may not, in fact, be the smartest, most-experienced person in your space. You may be a total newbie or somewhere on the path to craft and mastery.

No doubt, you need to raise your skill-level to a certain baseline level of value before you can command value in exchange for what you offer. But, here’s the reality about who gets the gig. The vast majority of the time…

The win goes not to the smartest, but the most-responsive person.

smart-responsiveThe one who shows up first. The one who returns the call or email or text. The ones who gets the need and speaks to it. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve left a string of messages for potential vendors saying “I’ve got money to spend” and only one calls back. As an entrepreneur who’s a bit obsessed with service and growth-dynamics, I just don’t get it. But, guess what, that’s how most people and businesses operate. Sadly, extreme responsiveness has become the exception and not the rule.

So, guess who most often gets the gig? The one who shows me they want my business. Are there “better” people or vendors out there? On a pure skill level, decidedly so. But…

People don’t buy skill in a vacuum, they buy skill + care.

Keep on honing your craft, building toward mastery. Don’t think for a minute, though, that “being on the road” to excellence is a barrier to being paid. Exalt responsiveness in the early days and you’ll be blown away by how competitive you can become with those supposed “big kids.”

Over to you, now…

Curious, have you experienced this? Either on the side of seeking to hire someone or serving at a level of responsiveness that allowed you to operate in an arena you thought you’d have been shut out of based on your level of current skill?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

With gratitude,



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19 responses

19 responses to “Big Lie #2: I’m Not Smart Enough”

  1. Chris Shouse says:

    In this day and age of instant always connected keeping on top of your potential customers is very important. Thank you for this well thought out reminder.

  2. KW says:

    Great post! I’d add that “responsiveness” is not the only thing that wins the day. People enjoy working with like-minded people. Make a personal connection with your clients and customers and see how far that takes you.

    Also, you must believe that you’re smart enough. If you walk around thinking that you’re not, it will likely affect your behavior and interactions. It helps to think of how you would show up if you didn’t have that thought.

    • Susan says:

      I agree, KW. Almost 100% of my clients become personal friends because we make a deeper connection than just the transaction.

  3. Skill + Care = Stand out from the crowd. Yes, I’ve experienced this phenomenon in my life and my career, Jonathan. It seems that many people with skill do not have the time or inclination to care, so those of us who major in caring responsiveness definitely stand out. Thanks for a great reminder today!

  4. JB says:

    I like a quote by Billy Joel here (although I haven’t verified this, it seems to be found all over the place, so I’m assuming he said it).

    “I am, as I’ve said, merely competent. But in an age of incompetence, that makes me extraordinary.”
    ― Billy Joel

    In my career, I’ve found this to hold true. Solid, steady, always learning competence will beat flash-in-the-pan genius every time… The world is changing so fast that if you learn how to learn, you can jump to the top of the pack very quickly.

  5. Pauline Lyders says:

    I am really enjoying this series so far – it all rings so true. I’ve got my toes in several doors but have been afraid to push forward every time I find an example of someone who has already done it and done it well. Charge on!

    PS: I’m a stickler for typos. Please fix “their” to “there” near the bottom of the post.

  6. Kim says:

    I have had some amazing successes in my life. When people ask how I did whatever, it’s usually the same sort of story; i saw the opportunity and I asked for it. I read the little ads in back of magazines, I sign up for different newsletters and for little jobs, I read Craigslist. Yes, Craigslist. I’ve even found opportunities on Facebook.

    I turn over the rocks and seize the moment.

  7. This is how I buy, skill + care. It’s how I want others to choose me, too. And they do. I tell folks what I can’t do, what I don’t know, and still, they hire me, and tell me it’s because I care.

    Skill w/o care? Not interested. Ever. Literal best in the literal world holds no interest for me if they don’t care.

  8. Nic Cornell says:

    Well said Jonathan – I have found this to be true in my own client relations. Also love the picture.

  9. Yes, I have been deemed an ‘expert’ in a certain area that I was a beginner in… simply because I showed up and engaged!

  10. Erika Jones says:

    I had found myself looking for a new career path and saw a listing for a job that piqued my interest. In the requirements it stated that eligible candidates must currently hold a specific license. I didn’t have my license, but I applied for the job anyway and was told no. I offered to obtain my license and was told to call back when I had it. I called again a few weeks later, still no license, the position was not filled and this time was invited to sit down and talk. I met with the prospective employer who expressed the need for me to be licensed and was ultimately given a maybe. I kept calling, emailing, and eventually was offered a position with the agreement that a license would be obtained within 90 days of hire. I met the requirement and 4 years later am still with the same company, however, I have climbed a few rungs on the ladder. I got the job although clearly under qualified because of my persistence. It’s been a great thing for both me and also my employer who gave me a chance.

  11. Simone says:

    This is a great and timely post (as was the previous one).
    I think this is key. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying that I didn’t have enough experience or knowledge in a certain area, however I’ve also come to the conclusion (rather obvious in my case) that I become bored after achieving a level of mastery in a certain area and that I need to switch to something else. In previous jobs, I’ve been highly engaged in the work. But when I’m done, I’m done. This has been frustrating in terms of how to market my diversity of experience, expertise and interest when the rule is that you need to develop a niche. Often I feel like I’m not qualified for entrepreneurship to the same extent as others who have several years experience in a particular field. On the other hand, I suppose my niche IS diversity (and care/engagement). Sorry if I’ve run off on a tangent here, but I think your key point still fits.
    Thank you! Puts things in perspective. 🙂

  12. Erin says:

    I liked reading your comment Erika. Good job persevering!

  13. Nancie says:

    Years ago I applied for a job with a Fortune 100 company. I wasn’t even sure what job was, from the reading the ad. I went for it, interviewed, and ended up working for them for several years.

  14. Will Gibbons says:

    Oh my gosh! This hit home for me Jonathan! Thank you for writing this article, and I’m glad I’m on your mailing list (and thus had the chance to read this). I began freelancing as an Industrial Designer about a year ago and as a result of needing to relocate across the country, decided to take the opportunity to begin full-time freelancing. Man, it’s been stressful. I’ve been working on my craft as well as trying to build up the portfolio, but without the track record, it can be tough to get clients as a younger (25) professional. Anyways, What I’ve been told by past clients is that my professionalism is second-to-none, and I’ve got great communication and am quick to respond. Hopefully that trend continues. I’ll try to incorporate your suggestions and see how it goes!

    Thanks! Have a great weekend!

  15. Nancy says:

    Thanks for this, Jonathan. I’m working on something that definitely requires more mastery, which can only happen over time. I had no idea just how valuable responsiveness is in the marketplace — this is actually an area that I’m very sensitive to and very good at. So you’ve really given me more confidence to just bring it sooner rather than when the thing is at a certain level. This was a major help!

  16. Rick says:

    Some refreshing honest truth in here:

    “Rather than make this another rah-rah, you’re so cool confidence-building session, let’s do something a bit radical. Here’s the thing, you may well be right.”

    A genuine acknowlegement of reallity rather than smoke and mirrors to be something your not *yet*.


  17. Delwyn says:

    Good stuff Jonathan.

    It makes me wonder – when did ‘smart’ become THE THING?
    Of course no-one wants to be the dummy in the room but you are right-on – it’s how hard we work to deliver, not how clever we are that makes the difference.

    By the way, I have just re-read your book ‘Uncertainty’ (properly this time) and followed your recommendation to read ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck. Wow – it just turned me upside down.

    Not talent.
    Enough said.

  18. Rob says:

    Delwyn – I’ve just read ‘Mindset’ by Dweck too. Fabulous book.

    I’d agree with you, Jonathan, and add that, in my experience, care and trust trumps all: by cultivating a relationship of care and trust with customers I have found, that if I don’t have the skill for a necessary part of the process, I can manage the outsourcing of that skill on behalf of my client. This approach of being a ‘one-stop shop’ appears to encourage deep value.

    Have confidence in what you do and if you can’t do it, you can manage it.

    Often, simply being just a few steps ahead of a customer (skill-wise) is enough to help.

    I rarely have to outsource work but when I do, being responsive, communicative and caring by managing the process on behalf of my customers, attracts an abundance of referrals and repeat work. I get more done in a shorter time too.

    I am also amazed at how many people I have offered work to and they have left money on the table, missing the opportunity to get paid for what they do, by simply not responding to a work request. I have seen this happen often.