“If you find that you are the smartest person in the room, it’s time to find a different room.”
This is the quote that’s been sticking in my head recently and has me thinking about all its applications. The beauty of such a quote is that the word smart, or smartest, can be interchanged with almost anything
‘If you find that you are the strongest person in the room…’
‘If you find that you are the fastest…’
‘If you find you are best coach in the room…’
The quote has tons of possibilities that could translate across multiple disciplines in life. I love it primarily for two reasons: it serves as a reminder that you never stop learning or improving, and it reminds you to stay humble.
Learning and growth are things that can never stop. I thought I knew a lot about training when I first got out of college, and even into my first year out of school working as a personal trainer. It wasn’t until I started working in private strength and conditioning facility that I realized my own naïveté. I found out quickly how little I knew about training, load management, age appropriate training, and more. I had never heard of Velocity Based Training, and then was informed that a lot of places were using this as a primary factor in determining load and managing fatigue. I thought I knew about speed and agility, only to realize that I knew very little. I went from being the big fish in a little pond to being Nemo outside the reef. I knew nothing.
When I started using social media heavily as a method of connecting and growing, I didn’t do the whole “follow back” type of networking. If someone followed me, I always looked at the type of content they posted and if they were posting interesting thoughts or ideas regarding a variety of topics. I don’t watch soccer and haven’t played for years, but I follow lots of soccer coaches and trainers because they challenge the way I think about things. I don’t like baseball much, primarily because I dislike the culture that often comes with it, but I follow a lot of people who post baseball related content because they challenge the way I look at training.
For me, in order to continually “find a different room” I try to find the people who are going to challenge my biases and cause me to ask questions. For if one isn’t asking questions, they no longer find answers.
The same statement goes for training as well. A few weeks ago I went to a coaches clinic at Mash Elite Performance, and while there I had the opportunity to watch some phenomenal young athletes train. You don’t realize how weak you are until you watch someone 10 years younger than you warm up with your all time personal best squat. I got the opportunity to ask one of the coaches there about what made their athletes so exceptional, and how they had so many phenomenal athletes and weightlifters come out of such a small gym. Her response, “Culture.” When you put yourself in an environment where you are the smallest, weakest, or slowest, you’re going to push yourself that much extra in order to not be the little fish in the big pond. The funny thing is, I knew what the answer the moment the question left my mouth. I had experienced it before.
In college, I was arguably the strongest and most athletic I’ve ever been. Which would make sense, as I was constantly surrounded by powerlifters and other weightlifters that were far superior than I. I remember thinking I was strong one day, and then turned around to watch a guy close to my size deadlift 500lbs from a 3-inch deficit for
reps. I’d never even deadlifted 450lbs at that point, and someone 10lbs heavier than myself was making much more than that look like it was a walk in the park. After that my numbers began to skyrocket. I started to lift with more intensity, and watched my max clean jump from 125kg to 160kg in less than 6 months. My back and front squat numbers jumped equally as much. When you’re the weak one in the room, you find yourself working as hard as possible to not have that role anymore.
One of the great things about placing yourself in an environment where you are the “little guy” is that you have a greater opportunity for growth. It is humbling to be the one who knows little, but it also presents that great opportunity for learning and development. Constant growth and constant learning are not finite things. If you find yourself stagnant in your environment, look around you and ask the question: am I in the right room? Are you surrounded by people who will challenge you? Are you surrounded by people with more experience? By making an honest assessment of your environment, you may find that you need to find a new place that will challenge you and create an opportunity to be the little guy again.