Client as Athlete

A client (I’ll call her “Mary”) recently described to me how she isn’t as smart as her senior managers.

My take on smartness is that there are many different ways to be smart and that it is a one-dimensional, bullshit descriptor. The super-smart VP dominating the room who has had three divorces is probably not very smart, for example. The super-smart manager whose team is afraid to voice an idea or opinion is probably not very smart.

Not feeling smart enough was affecting Mary’s ability to stand up to her managers and ask for what she wanted: specifically, in this case, a promotion and a raise (which, it appears, she very much deserves). Her plan was to wait and see what happened at her next performance review.

I asked her to describe areas in her life where she is assertive. As she hemmed and hawed, I asked her if she were an athlete. Her whole body lit up and she said she had been a college soccer player. She talked about how she could take anyone on the field, how she could outrun anyone, and if they outsmarted her (as happened occasionally), how she could learn from the experience. The swagger and confidence flowed from her as she talked.

We talked about her athleticism now. Although those glory days are far behind, she’s still athletic, playing soccer badly but with the same bravado and trash talk — she’s still swaggering on the field, she’s just faking it now.

I pointed out to her that she can choose to be the “Not as Smart as They Are” Mary, or she can choose to be the “Soccer” Mary — and that it’s totally irrelevant if she’s faking it on the inside. No one can tell if she’s faking, she just needs to put it on. I asked her if she could put on “Soccer” Mary during her next 1:1 with her manager.

That question was a little scary for me. It’s a little woo-woo. A very literal thinker might not get it. Might think I was stupid…

But Mary got it because she had been that confident athlete and could draw the connection between that person and who she is now. She got that “Soccer” Mary is just as authentic as “Not as Smart as They Are” Mary.

A few days later she sent me an email and said she had told her manager she wants a 20% raise in her next performance review. I could hear a little swagger.