> Current Issues > Q&A for Teens

Dumbing Myself Down

January 26, 2017 | by Lauren Roth

My boss said I should pretend to be less capable than I actually am.

Dear Lauren,

I’m not a teenager but I see from your articles that this is the kind of question you might be able to help me with. I work as a technician in a doctor’s office. We just got end-of-the-year evaluations. The doctors all said I’m super qualified, super efficient, and an asset to the practice. But I’ve heard from the practice manager that my fellow technicians are jealous of me. I went to one of the doctors and asked him his advice about what I should do, and he said that I should act less capable in front of the other technicians and pretend to not know things that I really do know. To say things like, “I don’t know about that,” when I really do know, so that the other technicians won’t be jealous. I’m not sure his advice sits right with me – can you weigh in?

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

Oh, girl, did you come to the right address!

This is an excellent question for a Teens Q & A column because this is the struggle all people have for most of their lives, starting at about 11 or 12 years old, and it is the main focus of personal struggle (and, hopefully, “persona resolution”) for teens. Eric Erikson called this struggle “identity versus role confusion”, and defined it as: “Adolescents who are successful at this stage have a strong sense of identity and are able to remain true to their beliefs and values in the face of problems and other people’s perspectives.”1

Yes, it’s very important to get along with other people. Yes, you definitely want to make the people around you feel comfortable. And the definition of a socially successful person, in my opinion, is one who makes the people around him or her feel great about themselves, without sacrificing his or her own set of values or self-respect.

You deserve to express your intelligence and abilities.

The boss who told you to dumb yourself down to make the other workers happy has a goal: to keep his workers happy. His goal is not necessarily confluent with your goal of you becoming the most developed person you can be. You deserve to express your intelligence and abilities. Yes, making other people feel bad is not a good idea. Balancing being capable and making other people around you feel good is your goal in life. Dumbing yourself down to do it, in my opinion, is selling yourself short in a way that impinges on your self-development and your self-respect.

Self-respect is an important concept. God created you, so you are not just acting for your own self-interest. You are an emissary of God here on Earth to fulfill your own God-given personal mission. If you sell “yourself” short, you’re not doing what God put you here to do.

I’m certainly not saying to be callous towards the feelings of others. You don’t have to jump in and answer every question when there are others there who can answer. But you also certainly don’t have to say “Uh…I dunno” when you actually do have an intelligent answer to a question that others don’t have.

Personally, I learned how not to make other people jealous of whatever skills I have had over the course of many years through trial and error. The most successful strategy I’ve employed so far has always been to be really kind and a good friend to my co-workers/classmates. When you’ve made your co-workers your friend, it’s hard for them to feel antagonistic towards your success. Including your friends in your success or telling them you’re sorry if you hurt their feelings can go a long way towards bonding you and your co-workers.

Including them in your success would go something like this:

You: “Wow! We make a great team together!”

Co-Workers: “No, Alice, you know it was all you.”

You: “Not true. We’re an awesome team and we all need each other. Love you guys.”

And then you buy them all donuts and coffee. And eat them all together, telling jokes and stories and laughing together. You, of course, don’t hog the conversation! And you, of course, laugh at their jokes, and really listen to their stories, because you’re showing them you really, honestly, and sincerely care about them as people.

I’m also wondering if the “boss man” in question would have said the same thing to a young man in your position. It’s important to realize that women are sometimes told to be docile and stay quiet in order to keep the peace, while men are encouraged to speak out and move themselves forward. An interesting thought to keep in mind. Again, your boss’s interest is to keep his workers content and quiet, whereas your goal is to develop yourself fully and to be a successful person.

That “being a successful person” includes a balance between your advancement and making sure the people around you don’t feel stepped on as you climb. As Tim McGraw said, “When you get where you’re going, be sure to turn right back around. And help the next one in line. Always stay humble and kind.”

1. Source: Boundless. “Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development.” Boundless Psychology Boundless, 20 Sep. 2016. Retrieved 27 Dec. 2016 from

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