Why It’s Important To Never Be The Smartest Person In The Room

Amanda Pena
Amanda Pena is one of those bridge and tunnel people that frequents the city for her job and the Chipotle on every other block. She hopes to be the next Cheryl Strayed and touch people's lives through her writing and/or find the best prosciutto deli in Manhattan.

Upon graduating, I had big dreams of working in a trendy office with people my age where we’d goof off, talk about day-drinking, reminisce of when we were able to take day naps, etc. My dream, however, was quickly shattered when I took a job at an almost century-old corporation and became the youngest person ever hired full-time. While a big accomplishment in itself, I had this overwhelming feeling that I’d never be able to relate to the thirty-somes and forty-somes who were married with children and discussing their finances to afford family vacations to Ocean City, Maryland. My biggest concern all day was whether or not I could splurge for the buffalo chicken slice over the cheese slice.

Needless to say, I judged and immediately divided the office into two buckets – the youth bucket with just me, myself, and I, and the old bucket with everyone else. My bucket was comforting with my crappy top 40 music and my ignorant and naive case as to why millennials are the best generation. Though, I soon found this bucket forming an impenetrable bubble that deflected any opportunity for me to branch out and understand the “old” bucket’s point of view.

I had two options – stay in my own lane, do my job, and seek out any opportunities to interact with the millennial presence that I was lacking or suck it up, and try to connect with those on a different playing field than me. Almost a year later with loads of knowledge and wisdom that I couldn’t have acquired through a textbook, but only through a human, (weird?), you can say that I took the path less traveled.

Learning from those who have “been there, done that” is such a comforting experience. Before I’m able to make mistakes or dive into waters that I’m unsure of, I seek their direction and counsel and almost always make a sound decision because of their guidance. It’s like having the cool version of your mom at work, and instead of texting while she speaks to you, you listen and sit in awe of her knowledge and experience (Sorry, ma). While they may not understand or care about the latest Justin Bieber tussle, they put a lot of things into perspective for you, like how a failed relationship in your 20s is not something to be ashamed of, but an opportunity to grow and narrow in on what you want in a partner.

I’ve learned so much about finances, relationships, marriage, children, life’s purpose, career, maturity, and everything in between because of them (I’m making them sound like the Others from LOST), and because of that, I feel more comfortable with the act of growing older. It makes me work harder, reach for more, and strive to get on their level so I can eventually impart my own knowledge on the next 20something who seeks my advice. Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune columnist, said it best, “Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out, some world-weary pundit eager to pontificate on life to young people who’d rather be Rollerblading.”

The key to fitting in with an unknown environment is the will to be there. You have to want to learn from them and be receptive to the suggestions, critiques, and advice they give you. There have been times when my own stubbornness has prevented me from hearing a word they say, but minutes later, that stubbornness bites me in the ass. If I could tell our youth anything, it’d be to listen. Just be open to new experiences, words, books, places, but most importantly, people.

One of my mother’s favorite quotes is, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.” While I understood the context of the quote, I never understood the enormity and importance of it until I started working with those who are years beyond me. I could be in that trendy start-up with a bunch of recent college graduates, but I’d be sacrificing a strong learning opportunity for the security of being with someone who also has no idea how to print an excel sheet. While I’d rather be rollerblading, I’m going to make the most out of this in-between time and learn everything I can while I strap on my blades.

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