August 3, 2014 – Unassuming
This journey has led to a lot of reflection and unique insight. Today an insight bubbled up and it was the first time I ever acknowledged it – I’ve been underestimated by others my whole life. For a host of varying reasons in different contexts and settings, I’ve usually experienced being underestimated by strangers or people who don’t know me well. The first area involves my responsibility, mainly in being a young parent. I’m 32 but could probably pass for mid-20s pretty easily (some would argue even younger). When I’m out with my four young kids (especially if my wife happens to not be right by my side), I get all sorts of incredulous looks. Often times people have been bold enough to question us by remarks such as, “Are they all yours?” Or insinuations that I knocked up my wife in our teens or that any of our kids were born out of wedlock (for the record all of our children were not only born but also conceived after our wedding). That’s just one example, however. Harkening back to my youth, as an 11 year old, I started dabbling with chess. I picked it up rather quickly and started participated in a chess tournament for three years that would involve several dozen schools from multiple states. I never looked like I was “too cool for school” or a Hollywood actor but I don’t look like a stereotypical chess whiz so often my opponents would see me as an easy win. Back to back years, I entered the chess tournament and left with 2nd place medals (ironically enough, beaten by the same kid who epitomized every single stereotype of a chess player).
In college, I found my professors to be somewhat taken aback by my performance after the first test or term paper and had multiple comments about “pleasantly surprising” them. I don’t believe the professors thought I wasn’t a good student during their initial assessment of me, yet the nonchalant attitude I gave off in class was somewhat of a dichotomy compared to my drive and excel to learn. Even in my professional career, especially at Microsoft, I would meet with new people all the time, usually managing directors from investment banks that I had communicated with via email or the phone. There were often surprised looks as they met me for the first time face-to-face. “You’re just a kid”; “Wow, you have a lot of responsibility given your age.” Or the classic, “Wait, you’re Brian Jorgenson?” Unknowingly I embraced these types of reactions and would purposely dress down during these meetings (which is difficult to do when you work for a tech company), knowing that it would widen the expectation gap even more prior to my introduction.
The word that has always described me well is unassuming. I shielded my skill at chess in an unassuming manner. I didn’t give off a brown-nosing, pretentious vibe to professors during classes or tried to flaunt my knowledge in front of others and remained unassuming until my test results came out. In professional life, my work spoke for itself but someone meeting me in person would have a hard time reconciling my age/experience with the communication and created work – unassuming.
I hope none of that comes off as arrogant or prideful because the reason I bring it up now is because everything has now changed. For the first time in my life, a total stranger would see me and actually OVERestimate me. They would not assume that I’ve been caught up in fraudulent activity. They would not bet that I’m about to be convicted of a felony. And no one would ever look at me and think, “Oh that guy’s going to be headed to federal prison soon.” If all my life I’ve been underestimated in some respects, the pendulum has swung to the other end and now strangers would think too highly of me given my situation. It’s a hard thought to process but apparently true.