“You can’t base your life on other people’s expectations.” ~Stevie Wonder
Being blatantly underestimated is simply a part of my life.
No matter what I’m doing, the ordinary will seem extraordinary, and the extraordinary will seem insurmountable to those who look at me for the first time. There is no way I am contributing the same amount to society as the rest of the world.
These are not drawn conclusions on my part; I have been told these very things straight to my face. People perceive me this way because of the white cane in my hand, the badge, letting everyone know of my lack of vision.
The most extreme instance of this happened while I was riding the bus, heading to an early college lecture. The man boarded the bus and sat down next to me. After he asked me how I was, and I answered as politeness dictates, I asked him the same.
His response was, “I’ve been better. I just got out of prison.”
The conversation went downhill from there. He told me that he had wanted to “throw in the towel,” “call it a day,” “end his life.”
He then said to me, earnestly and sincerely, “but seeing you, and realizing how horrible your life is, there’s no way I could take my life. You’ve inspired me, showing me that someone has it much worse than I do.”
As I rode that bus down to the university I attended, and he rode that bus to who knew where just after getting out of prison, a knot of bitterness tried to wriggle its way up my throat.
I had been completely underestimated without a second thought, my life relegated to mere scraps of what it actually was because of one small quality.
When people hear the word “prejudice,” they automatically think of the worst instance of judging another and immediately put themselves in the innocent category. There is no way that we underestimate or discriminate in the way that the word prejudice makes us think we do. The word, however, in the Marriam Webster dictionary is simply defined as:
“An adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge.”
It is extremely easy for someone to glean one small fact about another person and immediately begin to underestimate them without realizing it. Because of this, so many of us are being underestimated for circumstances out of our control. It could be that:
- You are in an entry level position, inexperienced in your field as you continue to learn and grow
- You are between jobs, and you’re constantly searching
- You’re young or unmarried or in an uncertain place financially, and a baby is on the way
- You have a physical or a mental disability
- You find yourself in a career that the world thinks will yield no return.
Even though you are, without a doubt, a uniquely valuable, talented person, that one small circumstance has the potential to bring you down in the eyes of the world around you.
Though the general advice for people in a situation where others are commenting in a negative way is to not listen to the rest of the world, it can be difficult, when day after day, we are repeatedly told that we are less than we actually are.
I know how it feels to be underestimated. I know how it feels when low expectations are heaped upon me without a second thought.
I have, however, learned a few incredible lessons about being underestimated, and I’ve learned how to, for the most part, combat the pressures of being underappreciated.
So, for those of you who are underestimated because of a circumstance that you can’t control, I hope these actionable steps can help you as they have helped me.
Know Your Worth
This is the easiest, most straightforward step you can take to keep negativity from dragging you down. It is, however, one of the hardest steps to actually put in to practice. When people tell us that we aren’t as valuable as we know we are, it can be easy to begin to believe them.
You have to intentionally, consciously remember how valuable you really are. Here are a few ways to bring this abstract, but essential step in to the practical:
Whenever you hear a negative comment aimed at you, combat it with a positive one.
Compliment yourself when you look in the mirror. Compliment yourself before you walk out the door in the morning. Positively affirm yourself, bringing the qualities that make you unique and valuable to the front of your mind.
Bring to mind the reasons for self-pride.
No matter how insignificant they may seem, if you’ve done something in the past that you are proud of, or you are doing something now that propels you forward, these accomplishments can show you that the one small thing you are being underestimated for is actually not that important when you really think about it.
Show pride in yourself externally.
What I mean is, walk confidently, make smart clothing choices, do each of your actions to the best of your ability, and eventually your feelings of self-worth will soar.
It’s also harder for people to underestimate you if you look as though you know what you’re doing. It might seem as though you’re trying to fake it until you make it, but trust me, you won’t have to fake it for long.
Educate Those Doing the Understanding
As someone who is totally blind, I have learned something very important: there are many people out there that are just ignorant and misinformed. They’ve never interacted with a blind person before, so they simply don’t know any better.
Once I begin to talk to them, share my story, show them that I am just like anyone else, many of them begin to have much higher opinions of me and what I can do.
Everyone has a story, and it can be therapeutic to open up and share it. Whether it’s a family member, a friend, or a stranger you’re talking to for the first time, you can have a chance to bring that person a perspective that might not have been known before.
You don’t have to share your life with every person you meet, but misinformation and lack of understanding plays a huge part in the underappreciation of others.
Surround Yourself with Like-Minded People Who Understand You
These are the people you can vent your frustrations to, the people who will bring you through when others want to put you down.
This step, for me, is key to keeping the positivity in my life. I already have to deal with people who may or may not see me in the way I see myself, so why would I want to go home and experience that, or invite that kind of negativity in to my life?
Sometimes, the people who are around you the most—your family, your friends, your colleagues—are the ones who are doing the underestimating.
I know this can be the hardest part for some of you, which is why it is all the more important to find a small inner circle that can support you where you are. Your inner circle should be the ones to cheer you on and stand with you, from a position of wanting to lift up and not pull down.
If you find a group like this, and the underappreciation becomes too much, they will help you stay sane. I can promise you that. An open mind and a readiness to meet new people and forge relationships is really all you need to begin connecting with others on a deeper, more supportive level.
Join a group of like-minded people, such as a meditation or yoga group, an intuition development class, a writer’s club, anywhere that will allow you to feel supported and connected. When you begin to meet with people, be prepared to share and open up, at least a little. These people are there to connect in the same way you are, and being open and authentic breeds trust.
These types of relationships aren’t built in a day; it will take work and consistency to see results, but if you have a desire to connect, people will understand or feel that on a deeper level and will want to reciprocate. Connections like these can lead to the most fulfilling relationships, which are the kind that can help to combat low expectations and negativity.
Prove Them Wrong
The people who are doing the underestimating think they know something about you that, for some reason, you don’t know about yourself. You, however, have the home court advantage; you know more about yourself than anyone else ever can or will.
- You know how valuable you truly are.
- You know from what place most of these people are speaking.
- You know that you can communicate with someone who will lift you up.
And, at the end of the day, you are the one with the plan for your life. You are the one who knows how successful you are and can continue to be.
So, you are the only one who can put one foot in front of the other and just keep on moving, even when others think they know the exact reason why you should stop. You are the only one who can prove them wrong.
In the end, you are the one in control. No matter what anyone thinks or says, you choose your life and your path.
If you know your own value and keep moving forward, if you understand the mindset of the people around you and hold on to those closest to you who love you, you will begin to see a transformation in the perceptions of those you encounter throughout your life and within yourself.
Woman silhouette via Shutterstock