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You're Not Dumb...And Neither am I

One of the things I'm not fond of is self-deprecation. Smacking yourself on the forehead when you screw up a demo is counter productive, as is calling yourself dumb compared to someone else in the same line of work. I believe that if you do enough of that it actually skews your own self image. We should recognize the areas where we're strong or weak, and when we fail to meet goals, but that's not the same as calling yourself dumb!

I've long understood that there are plenty of people in the world with more natural ability than I have, and that in turn I have more natural ability than many other people - in certain areas. Within SQL Server I'd like to think I'm competent or better, but I don't know anything about DB2 or Oracle, and not much about mountain climbing, flower arranging, and welding. I also know that my ability to accomplish things is generally limited by my willingness to work hard(er) and to do things that don't come naturally to me (marketing/PR) and to take time away from family.

There are a few 'A' list people in our business, those that by ability, hard work and a smidgen of luck have become well known. There is a much larger set of people on the 'B' list that are somewhat known, and then everyone else. There are a lot of people on the C list that could move up if they:

  • Wanted to
  • Understood what to do
  • Could find the time (away from family)

I suspect most could climb to the B list if they really tried, far fewer would make it to the A list due to the increasing demands. That doesn't make anyone on the B or C list dumb!

Grade yourself on accomplishing your goals, it's the only measurement that matters. If you want to be on the A list, set the goal and do it! If you find satisfaction in doing what you do now, that's fine too. But you're not dumb...and neither am I!


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by K. Brian Kelley on 11 December 2008

I think it starts young as a defense reflex. Have this issue with my youth group whenever we challenge them with something a little out of their comfort zone. They immediately start with, "I can't..." and then they give it a try. When they run into opposition, they come back with, "I'm so dumb..." or something along those lines.

We have the same sort of conversation about how they can do it and that language is counter productive.

Posted by Steve Jones on 11 December 2008

Calling yourself dumb in a demo is a little self-deprecation, perhaps humor, but it's a bit of a common expression. It's not meant, to me, to indicate that you're dumb, but perhaps that you did a dumb thing.

We all do dumb things, we know better, but we do them anyway.

I think you're more talking confidence in your abilities, which many people definitely lack.

Posted by Andy Warren on 12 December 2008

Yes, there is a difference. You can tell when a person with confidence makes a mistake and just says I goofed, vs someone with lesser confidence seems to repeat it over and over again. Most of it is how you do it, a lesser part is how often you say it, and some of it is how it affects you.

Most of my take on this comes from watching and coaching beginning speakers and they need every trick they can find to do well the first few times out. They tend to be very nervous and lacking confidence, and odds are things will go mild to very wrong during their presentation. With most crowds if you say ooops and move on, all if forgiven, but if you dither and whine you just look horrible.

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