Do You Feel Like an Underdog?
Harry Potter. Katniss Everdeen. The Chicago Cubs.
These are a few of the underdogs many of us have rooted for. (OK, if you’re a Cleveland Indians fan, you weren’t rooting for the Cubs, but millions of people were!) They are people who seem to have the deck stacked against them, but who persevere anyway.
Why do we love underdogs? One idea is that we believe life should be fair, which leads us to favor the underdog. Underdogs are also perceived to work harder than their rivals. A team or entity that seems likely to lose is not, however, championed as an underdog if it has a lot of money or other resources. (retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/news/2007/12/24/why-do-we-root-for-the-underdog/1699.html) That last statement might have thrown the Cubs’ underdog status in doubt, as they clearly had lots of resources at their disposal. Still, 108 years without a World Series win carried a lot of weight! [I will also say, as a side note, that it seems the statement excludes a certain presidential candidate from underdog status.]
I think another reason we root for the underdog is that we can readily identify with him or her. Of course, there are people who are used to success and expect to win, but many of us don’t. In fact, a person can easily feel like an underdog even when she isn’t one, just because she’s used to that mindset. I think experiences of being “one down,” particularly in childhood when we’re at our most impressionable, translate into a lifelong feeling of being an underdog. There is still a part of us that identifies with the powerless child we once were.
It’s no coincidence that characters like Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen are children fighting adults. This accentuates the seeming futility of their quests. Knowing how these stories go, we expect them to win in the end, but that doesn’t stop us from being afraid that they won’t. In cheering for them, we also cheer for ourselves and our own chances to triumph.
What are some of the challenges that you face? Do you believe that you can prevail, as you believe the novels’ protagonists (or the baseball team) can, or do you feel like you’re not good enough to rise to the challenge?
I’ve written before about Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. These ANTs tell you that you won’t come out on top. For instance, if you own a business, you question the worthiness of your product or service and wonder why anyone would want to pay you for it. If you aren’t self-employed, you feel “less than” other employees and assume someone else will always get the big project, promotion, etc. If you’re on an online dating site, you figure that your profile will be overlooked by anyone worth dating.
The thing about ANTs is that they’re usually exaggerated or false; if there is some truth to them, there’s often something that can be done about it.
The next time you find yourself assuming you’re going to be the loser in a situation, step back and look again. Look at yourself as if you’re a friend who’s on the outside looking in. What are the chances that you’re right? Is there any truth at all to your belief? If there is, can you do something to improve your chances?
If you’re a business owner, look at your business history. Unless you’ve just started your business, I’ll assume you have succeeded in finding at least one customer or client, probably many of them. What was it that attracted them to you? Is that point of attraction still there? What can you do to make your product or service even more appealing? There’s nothing more empowering than finding specific actions that will help you to improve your chances of success.
If you’re worried that you won’t be assigned a big project or get a promotion at work, remind yourself of what has happened in the past. Have you been assigned projects or gotten promotions in the past? If so, did you rise to the challenge and do a good job? If you did, chances are good that you will continue to succeed and get noticed by your employer. Success breeds success, right? If, on the other hand, you haven’t been assigned big projects or gotten promotions (and there are projects and/or promotions to be had), or they haven’t gone well, look at what you can do to change that. Can you get more training? Can you speak up more on your own behalf? Can you take some initiative to show what you can do? If it doesn’t feel like you’re getting anywhere in your current job, can you consider looking for another job?
And regarding online dating…as I tell my clients, there are lots of potential partners out there, and you only need to find one. What are the chances that there isn’t even one person with whom you are compatible? (Here come the ANTs again…take a moment to stomp on them. Look at this situation from the perspective of one of your friends. Would he or she say that there’s no one out there for you? Probably not!)
How will you rise to the challenge today (or maybe tomorrow)?
Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.