A recent study by Cigna found that 27% of Americans rarely or never feel like there are people who understand them.

Are you one of those 27% who feel underestimated?

I’m here to give you the steps to stop feeling underestimated and become indispensable once and for all. In this guide, you will learn:

  • why people underestimate you (and why you may underestimate yourself!)
  • the 3 golden rules for becoming indispensable
  • what to do when people underestimate you
  • how to use underestimation to your advantage

Let’s dive in.

Step 1: Do You Underestimate Yourself?

The first step in your journey to becoming indispensable is to realize the WHY of being underestimated—with science, of course!

Here’s why you might be underestimating yourself (or being underestimated by others):

  • You’re not getting enough feedback. Are others reaffirming how well you’re doing? Science says feedback matters. In one study, people performed tasks equally well when given feedback or not. However, those who were left in the dark actually underestimated their abilities! We constantly need an influx of feedback—if you’re not given it, go looking for it!
  • The liking gap. Stranger bias is when we meet someone and automatically assume they don’t like us. This makes us THINK they’ve underestimated us, but in reality, science says otherwise. In a study titled The Liking Gap in Conversations, Yale students came into a lab and had a five-minute conversation with another participant. They rated each other on how much they liked the other person and how much they thought the other person liked them. It turns out, we are actually much more likable than we tell ourselves. The liking gap doesn’t only apply to strangers but personal relationships as well. Whew! This one should be a relief if you’re neurotic like me.
  • It’s all an illusion. Do you know Dunning and Kruger? Those are the same researchers who came up with the Dunning-Kruger effect. In another study, they surveyed undergrad students and asked them a series of questions about grammar, logic, and jokes. They then asked the students to score themselves. Interestingly, the students who overestimated their score actually scored the lowest. As for the students who underestimate themselves? They actually scored the highest! This study shows that the best performers may actually underestimate themselves.

Action Step: Start a success file. Your success file is a collection of all of your strengths, capabilities, and successes. These include kind emails, recommendations or endorsements, nice comments, letters and thank-you notes. Every time you look at your success file, it should make you feel powerful and confident. This is your groundwork to never be underestimated! 

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Step 2: Be a Giver

I was walking down the street one day when I ran into a street busker. But unlike the others who did it for money, this one was different.

He was singing and playing his guitar and having the time of his life. You couldn’t help but see the happiness radiate from his voice and energy. He was singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” just like in this video:

He was a giver. And seeing him put a bright smile on my face.

The thing is, all indispensables are givers. They give without expecting anything in return. They give gifts, their talents, and their unique skills to others. Science shows there are a host of great benefits to giving. If you’re underestimated, giving to others helps:

  • Build social connections. When you give, social exchange happens. You’re no longer taking, taking, taking. This leads to greater cooperation and a higher feeling of being indispensable.
  • The Giving Loop. When you give, people give in return. Giving is literally contagious. And when people want to give to you, it’s hard for them to underestimate you.

I know it might be hard to give to others who underestimate you. But this is a crucial step toward being indispensable.

Action Step: Think about how you can give more. Get rid of that scarcity mindset—how can you give to people in your office? Your friends and family? This is a crucial step to shift your mentality and offer value.

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Step 3: Embrace The Naysayers

There were once four young men from Liverpool who went to an audition at the record company Decca in London. But they were ultimately rejected. The group was even told that “guitar groups are on the way out.” 

Time passed by and the owner of that label, Dick Rowe, realized he made a huge mistake. He later became known as “the man who turned down the Beatles.”

Now here’s a thought experiment: What if the Beatles had listened to those naysayers? What if YOU listen to those naysayers?

  • “You’ll never be good enough.”
  • “You can’t run a mile because you’re too fat!”
  • “You’re so awkward, you make Urkel look charismatic.”

Would you listen to them and vanish into obscurity? Or be like the Beatles and win?

The key to dealing with people underestimating you is to not ignore them but embrace your naysayers.

I call these naysayers “dreamkillers,” poke holes, ask hard questions, and doubt you (compared to dreambuilders who cheer you on).

But you know what? Sometimes that is helpful! I want feedback to get better. I want to improve myself. I want to know where my holes are. So I save my dreamkillers for when I am ready to look for improvements. I treat them like free career coaches. = )

When I was first starting up my business, SO many people told me I couldn’t make it. But that fueled me to make Science of People even greater.

Action Step: Think of the 10 people you interact with the most. Are they dreamkillers or dreambuilders? You can’t avoid all the dreamkillers, but leverage them to your advantage—avoid them during your creative stages and seek out their criticism when you’re feeling resilient. They can truly help you grow and make you stronger!

If you’re feeling angry, I want you to channel that energy. Find that anger, find that drive. And use it to your advantage. Want to learn how? Read on: The Ultimate List of Emotions and How to Control Them.

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Step 4: Increase Your Confidence

According to NBC News, 85% of people suffer from low self-esteem. 

This means we need to make some changes. If you want to stop people from underestimating you, show them that you have the confidence all the way through. 

Now, it’s going to be super hard to change your confidence in one go, but I’m going to share with you my favorite tip:

Quests. A quest is a project or journey with a clearly-defined goal. This can include:

  • Finding
  • Building
  • Creating
  • Sharing

All of these MUST involve a goal. Having a goal and tackling it is a huge confidence booster.

Action Step: Start a quest! I want you to pick one goal or big thing to do. This could be building a garden, learning a new language, or something productive. But the key is that it has to be quantifiable and measurable—something you can finish.

I want you to complete it in the next month. Think of the steps, your deadlines, and everything—and tag me on Twitter or Instagram because I want to support you on your quest!

When we are working on something, it makes us more interesting and engaged. And when you finally finish it off, you get a boost of confidence!

And when you’re feeling down on your quest (which you most likely will!) try following some of these helpful tips:

  1. Look back! Yes! Look back at what you have achieved so far. Not everyone can do what you do as well as you can do it. Often, people fail to realize that there are things that only they could have done. Did you go to a networking event? Play a rad board game? Add a new stamp to your collection? Ah-maz-ing. You do you!
  2. Practice and set goals. With progress, you get better at what you do. Maybe it is small progress, but it’s meant to increase your confidence and help you grow, even if it’s little by little. Setting short-term goals also helps. If you are a writer, set a time in the day when you’ll just write. Increase your word count and vocabulary. If you are a musician, learn a song that you feel is difficult, and take time doing so.
  3. Hype yourself up. Talk to yourself positively. Cheer for yourself like you cheer for your favorite teams in your favorite sports. This way, you can better know yourself and the things you’re good at. Celebrating yourself is another form of self-love.
  4. Believe in those who believe in you. This is true, even in my case. Whoever is your fan in your life—your close friends, your mom, your dog, and even your internet friends—learn to cherish them. When you start seeing what other people see in you, you start to get a hold of your capabilities and understand what you can do to better yourself.
  5. Take a break. Remember that if you overexert yourself, you can’t perform your best, which is why it is essential to take a breather and relax every now and again. Once you are recharged, you’re ready to sprint at full speed again.

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Step 5: Stop People-Pleasing

Are you a natural-born people-pleaser? Common signs of people pleasing include:

  • you feel anxious when people are mad at you
  • you say yes to events and parties you don’t feel like going to
  • you force laughter in conversations
  • you feel hesitant to give your own opinion

As I’ve grown up, I realize just how much people-pleasing I did as a child. People-pleasing is common in introverts, shy people, and socially awkward individuals. It’s just normal for us to want to keep others around us happy.

People pleasers’ huge downfall is that people constantly underestimate them.

If you exhibit signs of people-pleasing, it’s time to say no. And here’s the key:

You never have to apologize when setting a boundary. We can apologize when we’re wrong, we can apologize when we make a mistake, and we can apologize when we hurt someone’s feelings.

But you DON’T apologize for existing. You DON’T apologize for setting boundaries. And you DON’T apologize for stating your needs!

Action Step: For the next 7 days, I want you to stop apologizing. Only apologize when you’re wrong, not when you set your boundaries. For more anti-people-pleasing tips, head on over to my ultimate guide on people-pleasing, or watch the video below to get over pleasing behavior:

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Step 6: Learn Your Smart Phrases

A smart phrase is a clear statement, question, or comeback you say when someone underestimates you. Just like a conversation starter, it’s something you keep in your back pocket and say whenever the opportunity strikes.

Let’s say you are in a team meeting and the boss is going around assigning tasks. You feel you got the short end of the stick. You know you can do better! You can do more! Here’s how to ask:

  • “I want to step up on this task. How can I help in a bigger way?”
  • “I would love to help. What more can I do?”
  • “Would you mind giving me some insight into these assignments? Is there a reason you have me on this one? I think I can do even better!”
  • “I’d love a challenge on this one. Have anything else for me?”

Action Step: Find ways people underestimate you, and write down your smart phrases! Make sure you are still polite and kind when saying them. Remember, stand your ground when you say these phrases. A little verbal judo works especially well with added humor.

And whatever you do, avoid lashing out at all costs. This just makes things worse in my experience. If you’re having trouble thinking of what to say, I highly suggest upping your conversation skills.

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Step 7: Stay Calm And Move On

Do you remember the last time you were underestimated? Maybe it hurt you badly. Experiments have revealed that witnessing rude behaviors actually “decreases citizenship behaviors and increases dysfunctional ideation.”

In other words, rude people who underestimate you spread negativity.

Not only that, but rudeness affects productivity in the workplace. A 2000 survey found that 55% of people interviewed stated that they had experienced rudeness from coworkers.

To get my point across, take the renowned professional boxer Manny Pacquiao and his most recent fight. Manny’s opponent, Keith Thurman, openly called him “slow and small” and wanted to make him retire, whereas Manny, on the other hand, stayed composed and just let his paws do the talking… literally.

In the end, Manny Pacquiao won over Keith Thurman via a split decision.

"First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win" - Mahatma Gandhi Quote

Action Step: Rude people aren’t worth your time. Here are a few pointers to help you deal with rude people and remain calm and collected like Gandhi:

  • Try to avoid people who underestimate you. Sure, we talked about embracing them. But in the end, you probably don’t want to hang around toxic people—they drain your precious energy away.
  • Do not let them get to your head. This is easier said than done; however, practicing a little daily meditation goes a long way! I still practice Mettā meditation for 5–10 minutes a day if I have time, and it makes a world of difference.
  • Do not force them to change. A new study that looked at over 50 years of data showed that over time, people DON’T change… much. For the most part, personality remains the same over time, and traits that do change might take many, many years to do so.
  • Flash them your sweetest smile. 🙂 If you can’t kill ‘em with anger, kill ‘em with kindness! Flash your pearly whites and show them open, positive body language cues.

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Step 8: Stay Humble

OK, I have a confession to make: I used to love the cooking competition show MasterChef. Let me take you back to Season 4 of MasterChef…

*Obvious spoiler alert*

There was one contestant who was consistently underestimated: Luca Manfé. Luca failed the Masterchef audition for the prior season. He didn’t see glory. He didn’t even compete with the big dogs. He failed. But he came back in Season 4 with a vengeance.

This is where everyone underestimated him.

How could he even win Season 4? Luca was a failure last season, and he was already starting to lose many challenges early on. His competitors let their guard down and relaxed.

But when it seemed like Luca was losing, magic started to happen. He started to win challenges. The competitors were caught off guard. Eventually, with a little risk taking and persistence, Luca was hailed the winner of Masterchef.

"There's no freedom quite like the freedom of being constantly underestimated"- Scott Lynch Quote

So what did Luca do that other people didn’t?

Luca simply stayed humble and continued cooking.

If you’re constantly being underestimated and you’ve already embraced the naysayers (step #3), I want you to remain humble throughout the process. Why?

Because studies show that people who are humble have stronger relationships than those who aren’t. They maintain relationships. Build them faster. And people trust them more too.

And because of this humbleness, when you work on yourself and pull a “Luca…”

You will be the true winner yourself!

Action Step: What are the ways you can use being underestimated to your advantage? What are the things you can get away with? What surprises can you pull out? Use this to your advantage!

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Step 9: Focus On Yourself

It is fairly obvious that the suggestions given in this article mainly focus on one person—YOU.

I want you to think of yourself as a bank. The more you invest in yourself, the better you will become.

You are the only indispensable individual who has the capability to stop other people from valuing you less than what you are worth. It is your step to take, your decision to make.

Action Step: Take out a pen and paper and make 2 lists. On the first list, write down the skills you wish you had. For example

  • Programming. Coding is the skill of innovators and creators. If you love to be at the forefront of technology and change, programming is an excellent skill to learn! There are so many different programming languages and applications to learn. I suggest checking out this guide on programming languages to find your best pick. And if you’re ready, head on over to these excellent resources: The Odin Project to learn full-stack development, Harvard’s CS50’s Web Programming with Python and JavaScript course, and Khan Academy’s Intro to Computer Programming videos (all free, by the way!).
  • People skills. How good are you with people? A recent study found that a whopping 93% of companies agreed that soft skills were critical for hiring the right employees. The good news is, people skills are learnable! Here are the best resources to level up your people skills: learn about the 10 essential people skills, learn to become more likable, and learn to overcome social anxiety.
  • Communication skills. How do you talk? Most people are unaware of the small things they are doing wrong that could be limiting them from achieving good communication. (Hint: it’s more than just being a good listener!) Communication skills will help you say what you mean in the clearest way possible. Here’s how to level up your communication: 65 to 90% of communication is nonverbal and communicating effectively means controlling your body language. Once you’ve done that, head on over to the internet’s greatest communication course—People School. Remote working? Master your remote work skills to become a top-level communicator—even on Zoom!
  • Public speaking skills. Some people say you can judge a person’s success based on their public speaking skills. The ability to command large crowds is a powerful skill to learn—and one that many people are afraid to even try! As a public speaker with decades of experience, I’ve got you covered: learn the 15 science-based public speaking principles to get started; learn about the best public speaking apps; or head on over to my TED Talk experiment, where I break down the secret techniques TED speakers use to dazzle their audience.
  • Management skills. Are you a manager or team leader? There’s a science behind that too! Managers should learn the top management skills to master, as well as align their management style with their specific personality traits.
  • Leadership skills. You either lead or you follow. Leadership skills prepare those who want to be business leaders, entrepreneurs, activists, or even lead their friends in the right direction. Making change is about leadership. Check out these resources to get started: learn the 8 Laws of Power, learn about leadership training, and see Harvard’s overview of understanding leadership.
  • Financial skills. Last but not least, what are you working for? Once you’ve earned money, do you go on a shopping spree? Or do you spend time choosing your investments wisely? Learning your own relationship with money will greatly enhance your future. Learn these important financial skills: Budgeting 101, how to invest in stocks, and how to retire forever on a fixed chunk of money.

It can even be things like how to speedread or build good habits. If you can’t think of anything right away, take a breather and get back to it.

For your second list, I want you to list your desired people skills. This could mean:

Whatever it is you want to learn, write it on a list.

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Step 10: Always Be Learning

Now, I want you to take that list from the above step and try to master it.

I want you to make learning a priority.

We talked about having a quest earlier, now here’s your lifelong learning quest.

Learning gives you interesting things to talk about. It makes YOU more interesting. And it also gives you fresh new opportunities to impress others. And the best part? Learning is a lifelong process.

Learning is the antidote to non-progress. When you learn more, you feel more capable.

Here’s my challenge for you: From your skill list, pick one technical skill and social skill. Learn about if over the next week, and try your best to master it in the next 60 days. This works because people constantly underestimate others who are “stagnant” and not moving. If you’re learning, you’ll always be learning! Apply just 5 minutes a day to developing those good habits! Soon you’ll be on your way to becoming confident and excellent at your chosen skills.

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Step 11: The 3 Golden Rules of Being Indispensable

Psst, hey you. I’ve got something to tell you:

You are amazing.

But don’t take my word for it. If you’re here reading this, then chances are you really are a go-getter and are working hard to improve yourself (yay!).

But maybe you’re not being valued for your time, money, or effort. Maybe people just don’t seem to “get” who you are. Luckily, there are 3 key principles that, once learned, can make you absolutely indispensable:

  • with your friends
  • at work
  • even in your relationships
Graphic of The Indispensables (our indispensable superheroes)
The Indispensables!

Sound good? Here are the 3 golden rules for being indispensable:

  • Persistence. Indispensables give it their all. Whatever they are doing, they give it 100%. Persistence comes not so much from motivation (although a little motivation can go a long way) but consistent daily action. Daily action that accumulates day after day leads to long-term success. I highly recommend building up your good daily habits slowly over time.
  • Fearlessness. You have to overcome your fears to become indispensable. Fears stem from not knowing yourself, being overwhelmed by your external circumstances, or not feeling in control. I know you can overcome your fears—learn how to here.
  • Selflessness. Indispensables give genuine gifts without expecting anything in return. They are kind, humble, and caring. Indispensable people are leaders and care about others first. To be truly selfless, become a kinder person first.

Remember these rules and you will go a long way to not being underestimated. I’d love to hear your own story of being underestimated. How did it make you feel? Let me know in the comments below!

7 replies on “11 Steps to Never Be Underestimated Again”

  1. athenea

    Excelente artículo, en verdad lo agradezco mucho, sin duda alguna en algún momento me sentí subestimada pero sigo trabajando en mejorar, paso 9 y 10 ahora sé que voy por buen camino el aprendizaje siempre es útil pero más el aplicarlo en la vida diaria dando pequeños pasos de acción, como lo comentas es el éxito a largo plazo asegurado!!

  2. Ian

    Always a WOW! – I am 53 and have only just realized that I am socially awkward and keep exploring this side of me … sometimes it now amuses me how bound my mind becomes trying to rationalize social environments. I appreciate you information, it helps. There is also a grieving process every time I find out more about myself. I am currently struggling with realizing I live in fear of success, I am a wiz at what I do, but now people expect a magic trick every time I take on a change challenge …. thanks for your shares … they help

  3. DMK

    Thank you so much Vanessa, this is coming from a fairly successful person who has been chronically underestimated throughout my life. I have been waiting for your your article and supporting recourses for a long time. I’m sure there are a lot of people like myself, who know now how to prevent and how to deal with being underestimated. Much appreciated, thank you again.

  4. Fellene Gaylord

    Thank you! I really needed this. I am a solopreneur who has worked independently for a decade. Last week I was discouraged because after my latest site launch announcement on social media I got crickets from my 500+ online friends. Since I have no work colleagues, there was no one to celebrate with. I am going to put a few of these steps into action after celebrating my accomplishments first.

  5. Emily

    Wow! Thanks Vanessa, there’s lots of amazing info here!
    Can’t wait to start learning all those things in Step 9!
    So grateful to you for sharing this, thank you SO much!

  6. Esmatullah

    You will be the true winner yourself! it means a lot.

    Thanks for your wonderful article! All the 12 steps you have pointed out were so much that if anyone really wants to level up, build up and become someone that no one would dare to underestimate him/her. I have learnt many good lessons. The step I liked the most is BE ALWAYS A LEARNER, you know better that everyone only and only can be getting better through effective learning. Learning in a sense of gaining new knowledge, experience, building social connection, personality, good-well, trust, credibility and feel pride, staying humble and become someone which everyone like…
    Best wishes!

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