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Dumbing Myself Down
Q&A for Teens

Dumbing Myself Down

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

by

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 https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/human-development-14/theories-of-human-development-70/erikson-s-stages-of-psychosocial-development-269-12804/

January 28, 2017

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 11

(8) Anonymous, February 4, 2017 10:27 PM

I know SO well how difficult it is to be intelligent & very attrative.

By the time I was 7, I knew I was smarter than most adults.I was told to hide it/not to be a smart ass). Then came the Holocaust & I had good survival skills.In essence most women are very jealous of everything (they beat me up), men are incomfortable with intelligent women, I learned to act dumb. I am now very old, but I am still beautiful/intelligent/talented. I brought up 2 beautiful/ intelligent/competent children who make a lot of money. Amazingly, many of the women who made my life miserable, have given parties in my honor and apologized for their past conduct. They were very sorry, I was amazed. There is much, much more since I have been an orphan from age 8. I thank God every day.

(7) Eric Wood, February 3, 2017 2:21 PM

Excellent Advice

I see what you say in my life, (78) because I have an IQ of 161. Now this gave me 2 problems. People expected more of me than was realistic, so were disappointed or they thought the opposite, vanity! We're all human and less than perfect (well I am less than) So dumbing down made interaction acceptable and discreetly I could then help as needed.

(6) Steven C, February 2, 2017 6:39 PM

Use this as an opportunity -

As one who has been in this situation (albeit male - and yes, I can see where this may, unfortunately, have factored into his comments), and one who is now currently a “boss”, I agree that it was totally off base to be told to “dumb down”. Quite the contrary, a good boss should have taken the opportunity to build you up, praise your skills/knowledge, and encourage you to use this as an opportunity to help bring the others up to you level. Yes, this is often difficult to do, but there are subtle ways of approaching this such as: “Why don’t we look into that together as a group..” and the guide them through the learning/thought process so that they can all be capable as you.

(5) JB Destiny, February 2, 2017 3:50 PM

Ask the practice manager what it is that is rubbing your co-workers the wrong way!

The doctors are concerned with their patients (i.e. customers). The practice manager, though, is concerned with running the business (i.e. staff) - it's what s/he is hired to do. The doctors have no idea about the politics between the staff, and the advice you received is useless. Dumbing yourself down isn't the answer. Neither is blatantly sucking up to your co-workers. But the jealousy needs to be addressed. As much as you don't want the rest of the staff resenting you, they don't like working with someone they resent. It seems that the manager tried opening up the issue with you, but instead of taking that opportunity to discuss the matter, you went to one of the "higher-ups" in the practice! My suggestion is to talk with the manager about what the root of the problem is and work on solutions to it together.

(4) Arlene M., February 2, 2017 3:45 PM

do not be condescending, assuming only you know all the answers

Certainly, you do not have to "dumb yourself down" but it is important that you do not "talk down" to your colleagues either, assuming that only you can give a knowledgeable explanation. It is tiresome when someone presents him/herself as the authority on everything including what to eat, what to eat, other lifestyle decisions.Respect everyone's choices.

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