Why You Should Embrace Being the Underdog

Why You Should Embrace Being the Underdog

Do you ever feel like a "small fry" compared to the "big names" that are established in your area? Ever wonder if you are missing out on business because you don't have the same accolades on your website? Rather than let that get you down, why not embrace being the underdog, after all it has a lot of advantages!

While the top dogs have the advantages of better resources at their fingers, sponsors, access to new gear, and even a social media audience to give them thousands of likes and comments on their posts, don't squander away the opportunity of being on the bottom. Think for a minute about the NCAA basketball tournament. How often do you find yourself rooting for the underdog during March Madness? Why is this? "Some researchers believe this might have something to do with deeply held beliefs of justice and fairness. Fairness is one of the most frequently endorsed character strengths around the world. There are seeds of fairness in every person. By definition, the underdog does not fare as well as the top dog thus it is easy for a fan’s fairness buttons to be pushed where they root for the underdog to have a chance to make it to the limelight." (Psychcentral - The Psychology of the Underdog) In other words, it would be more fair to throw our support behind the underdog than the Goliath. 

Another reason people love to support the underdog is because we have all been there before during some scope of our life. Whether that be the role of little brother, last picked on the basketball team, starting a new job, whatever it is many of us have been in a role in our life where we felt like the underdog. Because of that we can easily empathize with them and want to help them achieve success. By helping we can vicariously live through them and feel like their win is also our win. 

A second advantage to being the underdog is that some people perceive them as putting forth more effort on a job. Turn this into reality by working your tail off for your clients. They want to see you persevere in the face of obstacles and come out on top. If you do that, they will return the favor by referring your name to all their friends and family. If you are an underdog your clients believe you have an empty calendar and want to help you fill it. On the otherhand if you are someone popular in your area and highly sought after than the clients just assume that your calendar is already full and don't put forth the same effort to send their friends to you even if they loved working with you. 

The story of the underdog is one that a lot of brands like to use to position themselves. Take for instance the commercials you see that start out talking about how the beer company was built out of the owners garage. These visuals are powerful and make us want to throw our support behind them. After awhile these companies get large, their brands change and suddenly we start looking for the next small company we can throw our support behind. How many of you go eat at a "hole-in-the-wall" food joint? My wife and I actually owned one a number of years ago. In short time it became quite successful but we retained the "hole-in-the-wall" feel because that was in large part what brought people to us and kept them coming back.

If you find yourself in a position of being the underdog don't let that get you down. Embrace it and take advantage of the position. Know that people want to see you succeed and find clients that will rally behind you to help you in the journey. Don't use the excuse that you are the "little guy" and therefore no one will hire you. It's just an excuse. Toss it out. It's okay to unpuff that chest and reach out to your supporters. Let them know where you are at in your business and build a support system of people who believe in you. There will come a time when you are the Rolls Royce of the industry and won't be able to benefit from the underdog story. But until then, welcome it. 

There is this great clip from an interview with Kevin Spacey that is worth watching. My favorite part is where he says, "To want and to be ambitious and to want to be successful is not enough. That's just desire. To know what you want, to understand why you're doing it, to dedicate every breath in your body, to achieve . . . If you feel that you have something to give, if you feel that your particular talent is worth developing, is worth caring for, then there's nothing you can't achieve." 

If you are a reader of this blog it is probably because you care about being successful. You want to be a better photographer and dedicate time to learning technique and how to run a better business. Don't let excuses slow you down. Find ways to make your weakness a strength. Work hard.  

It’s just something we made up.
Somehow we’ve come to believe greatness is a gift, reserved for a chosen few.
For prodigies. For superstars,
And the rest of us can only standby watching.
You can forget that.
Greatness is not some rare DNA strand.
Its not some precious thing.
Greatness is no more unique to us than breathing.
We’re all capable of it.
All of us.”                         - Nike Commercial

In conclusion, where ever you are in your business find the strengths and opportunities of being there and use those to propel you to the next level. Once you move up don't make the mistake of looking down on the underdogs below you because chances are they will be biting at your ankles before you know it. 

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Chris Smart's picture

I agree with most everything except the Psychcentral quote. Someone being better than you has nothing to do with a lack of justice and fairness. You are simply not better than that person. In our upside down modern world, where the madness of political correctness has infested much of society, many people do not like to hear that simple truth, or any truth that may cause them, or others, discomfort. I don't think anyone in their right mind would root for an underdog because of justice and fairness. What is just and fair is to honestly be the best.

David Vaughn's picture

I agree with you. I believe I've said it before on here, but inspiration and positivity (to the point of passive coddling) have become bankable commodities. This has promoted a culture of infinite potential. You can do anything; you can be anything. However, in most cases I feel that this is a well marketed but shallow approach to achievement, because it disregards the possibility of being average.

The underdog as a trope implies that they will eventually come out on top in the end. But that's not always the case. Not everyone CAN be president.

I've found that it's much more soothing on the existential crisis bone to believe that I'm not an underdog, an undiscovered talent, or "full of potential," because then I can focus on more than the fear of failure. If I don't believe that I owe it to myself to be the next president, then there's less emotional/mental recoil when I lose election after election.

I can keep moving forward without deluded self-importance as a drug to keep those thoughts - that maybe I'm unexceptional - at bay.

Oh, and just so nobody misconstrues what I'm getting at. I'm not saying to be mediocre. I'm just saying that I think it's foolish to believe somehow that I am entitled to, or obligated to a certain degree of success.

And holy cow this got super long, deep, and kinda depressing...and I'm not even sure it makes any sense. I don't even think this has anything to do with the subject matter. Sorry guys and gals...

Chris Smart's picture

No one in America should feel entitled to a damn thing, except what is lawful and written in our most fundamentals laws and declarations. After that though, I say shoot for the stars, as it has always been the American way and I hope it continues to be that way. It's what has made America, overall, the most successful and accomplished country that has ever existed. The loonie politically correct politicians of today, mostly on the left, are doing their best to ruin that by bringing everyone down to the lowest common denominator.

There is one but though. That one but is, have something else to fall back on, just in case. It's common sense, after all.

Mbutu Namubu's picture


Justin Haugen's picture

I think everyone deserves to be exactly where they are in their careers (most of the time). If you aren't cognizant of the hard work it takes to achieve the goals you set, you're kidding yourself. The underdog is a transitional state, unless you never grow and then it's a permanent condition of complacency.

David Vaughn's picture

That's assuming that the capitalist machine is a meritocracy.

Success entails hard work, but the opposite is not always true. While people should work as hard as they are able to achieve their goals (if they really want to achieve them that is), there will always be Usain Bolts in the world who can train just as - or less- hard than everyone else and still -jog- across the finish line in first place.

That's why I rarely read about the success stories of societal outliers in the hopes that I can find something substantially applicable to my life beyond the general cliches and platitudes of success.

I think a big issue with human nature as it exists today is this belief that, because a person works hard, they're entitled to success.

Justin Haugen's picture

Great points!

David Vaughn's picture

I'm not bashing your article btw. I agree with your conclusion. We shouldn't be given to pettiness and look down on those who are on what we perceive to be a lower rung on the ladder.