A few months ago I noticed I had the tendency to look outside of myself for answers. When my brain came up with a question, or if I noticed myself wondering about something – I’d tell myself I could google it, or I’d think about who would probably be the best teacher to answer or I’d consider which source would be the best place to research.
And when I caught myself doing this one morning, it alarmed me a little because this tendency to look outwardly for answers goes directly against one of my chosen beliefs which is: the answers we seek are inside of us.
Don’t I believe that about myself? So why was I consistently seeking answers outside?
What I Learned from My Coach
Luckily enough, I had a coaching session scheduled for myself that day so I decided to bring this alarming incident to my coach to explore (see- I did it again- looking for someone else for an answer!)
And I’m so glad I did because her job is to show my thoughts and help me see my own patterns. She correctly pointed out to me that I was just in the habit of looking outside of myself for answers. That my immediate response to look outwardly might have just been some default programming or unintentionally conditioned habit, and I could develop the intentional habit to check in with myself first.
So, that’s something I’ve been working on for the past few weeks and it got me thinking about expertise.
What Does Expertise Mean?
What do we mean when we talk about expertise? What makes us consider someone an expert at something?
When do you consider yourself an expert? Why wouldn’t you consider yourself an expert?
This might be one of those areas where we just accept our default thinking without questioning and where we assume everyone else thinks the same way we do about a topic. But now that I’m bringing it to your attention… really.. Think about it for yourself – what are you an expert at?
Maybe you have a list of topics you can rattle off right now. Maybe you’re thinking: “nothing? I wouldn’t consider myself an expert at anything.”
So that variety of possible responses makes me ask: Who decides on the threshold for expertise?
Specifically in your mind? And especially for non-regulated, subjective things?
Regulated Expertise is Necessary
Of course, regulated expertise is necessary in the world. We want experts in city planning and bridge-building and science and medicine and dentistry and all of these things that make our lives really, really comfortable.
So today’s topic is not a debate on the definition of expertise in those areas.
What I want to explore with you today is on the other, more personal, more conversational side.
Like how we use the words expert and expertise in our daily lives – about ourselves – when do we think of our talents and abilities as expertise (and when don’t we) and how those descriptions help us enjoy our lives and feel worthy and feel that we make a contribution individually.
Maybe what I’m asking is how important is it to designate ourselves as an expert?
Survey on Expertise
I conducted a very impromptu, non-scientific survey of just a very small sample size and I started to see a trend. A common sentiment when I asked about expertise was: what defines expertise? What constitutes an expert?
Now I can already feel some resistance vibes rising up – a lot of people, maybe even you, might assume that an outside authority needs to confer the designation of expert.
People can’t just go around and call themselves an expert, by their own definition – can they? Doesn’t that need to be stated, or confirmed by, a university? Or an association? Or maybe a journalist or media source?
Examples of “Experts”
What if I told you I know an astrology expert – would you doubt me? Would you doubt my claim of her expertise pending further documentation?
Who would need to provide that documentation? Or, would you just think – oh, an astrology expert? Cool, she must know alot about sun and moon signs, planetary alignment and retrogrades and returns.
Or if I told you I know a budgeting expert. Would you demand to see her accounting certificate? Or her degree in spreadsheets? Or her exam results in bookkeeping?
Again, you might just think “a budgeting expert? She must have a lot of experience” or maybe you’d think she has a lot of self-control.
I want to make the claim that, maybe, you are an expert.
I bet you are! I think it’s highly likely that there are multiple areas in your life in which you’re an expert. Why not notice and celebrate your expertise? Then you can keep developing even more – both in your current and future areas of expertise!
I’ve started to do this work for myself now that it’s come to my attention. I made a list of things I know for sure I’m an expert in and things that other people might say that I’m at expert in.
When I recognized that those 2 lists might be different, that’s when I first got the clue that we might not all be talking about the same thing when we use the word expert.
Expertise, Talent and Ability
Is expertise the same as talent and ability? I kind of think it is. I think talent is something that is innate. That is just part of your being that you – maybe – inherited, almost like genetics.
I think ability is something that you have an interest in or a reason to do. And unlike an innate talent, it’s something that you decide to work on and improve and learn about and develop over time.
For example, Malcolm Gladwell tells us it takes 10,000 hours (or about 10 years) of deliberate practice to become an expert.
Another way to think about expertise and ability, for our own personal definitions, could be when we classify things we want to be an expert in.
When I did my informal poll and asked my friends and family what they were experts in and what they thought I was an expert in, some of the answers came back that bugged me a little. I thought – yeah, I guess I’m an expert at that- but I don’t care about it. I don’t want to be an expert in that area.
So, realizing that you probably have well over 10 years of practice and far more than 10,000 hours doing lots of things in your life, do you now realize how many things you are an expert at? Even if you think, “well everyone else is too.” Or maybe you know you’ve developed a skill, maybe due to work, or a previous hobby, and now you don’t value that expertise anymore?
Is Expertise Necessary?
The question is, is using the designation of expertise necessary. Maybe not. Maybe it doesn’t serve a purpose to use that terminology, but maybe it does.
Maybe if you define yourself as an expert, it makes you feel more confident. Maybe if you recognize yourself as an expert and celebrate your own expertise, you feel more willing and responsible to share that expertise with others. Maybe you become more of an example for other people who want to experience that expertise for themselves.
I certainly appreciate when someone else who is a subject matter expert weighs in on a conversation or provides additional information for me. How sad it would be if she didn’t contribute or speak up because she thought “I’m no expert.”
For that last example alone, I’m suggesting that you own your expertise so you can share what you know when someone else wants to hear it.
Becoming an Expert
What about if you want to be an expert at something and you are not yet? Again, going back to the question of who is determining expertise?
But let’s just say you really are a beginner at it right now. You really honestly are not an expert. It’s something that you’ve just started. You’re just trying it out. So how do you become an expert? I think you become an expert with experience, with curiosity, with research, with trial and error and, of course, learning from existing experts.
You follow the scientific method on yourself. You take a guess about how you could develop your skill. You try it, conduct experiments, observe results, make adjustments and corrections and analyze your results and progress. And you keep doing that over and over again. Eventually, if you don’t give up, and you keep making continuous improvements, you’ll no longer be a novice. You’ll no longer be a beginner, or a person who’s just knowledgeable in this area. You’ll be an expert! So celebrate that! Take credit for it!
Innate Talent and Expertise
Some experts probably did get a headstart due to that innate talent that I mentioned a moment ago. But mostly, I think it’s your own driven decision to learn and study and experiment and try and fail and repeat and rinse and repeat. And then you gain expertise.
So how do you gain expertise? You ask yourself how, because you are, in fact, the designator of when you do or don’t get to call yourself, when you are or are not, an expert.
Ask yourself, what standard are you using? What level do you want to achieve? How will you know when you have reached that level?
And then start taking steps to work towards it. Allow yourself to learn. Allow yourself to be new at what you will eventually be an expert in.
You don’t tell yourself that you expect to be an expert when you are new at something. And you don’t tell yourself that you will never be an expert. You allow the process to unfold in front of you.
Who Really Cares?
Maybe labeling yourself as an expert doesn’t matter to you. Who cares what we call our skill or knowledge level, right? If you have a talent, or some ability, if you’re content with it – life is good
This might be a downside of our brain’s ability to determine if someone is an expert or not. What if your brain thinks that expertise is required in order to do something, to put yourself out there, to take yourself to the next level.
At the same time, what if your brain is telling you that you are not an expert? I’m calling this resistance.
So let’s say that you would love to be an expert at wine-tasting, digital marketing, or maybe you want to become a creativity expert, or maybe you want expertise in self-esteem or to become an expert journal creator or whatever.
Since we’re not talking about bridge building and brain surgery here, who will decide on the threshold for expertise? Who decides when the term expert can be applied or that expertise hasn’t yet been reached.
Who designates who can be called a creativity expert? Who decides on when you are a digital marketing expert?
Made Up Definitions
I’m pretty sure that definition is a made up definition in your mind, especially for these non-regulated subjective things that we’re talking about. Maybe you have a gift that would help other people. Maybe other people are interested in or would benefit from your expertise!
Maybe you’re holding yourself back from taking things to the next level. It’s possible you’re not giving yourself credit for your experience, and devoted study and all the attention you have paid.
If you are going to let your brain deny you the title of expert, at least use one of the research-back reasons why you’re not an expert.
Don’t let your brain just deny your expertise out of stinginess or meanness or unconstructive criticism.
I’m not saying that we should all just call ourselves experts randomly. I’m not suggesting you wake up tomorrow morning and decide you’re an expert at kite design because you watched a youtube video last night and thought it would be cool.
I’m not trying to dilute or diminish the meaning of expertise.
My point is not to insist that you have to be an expert and that everyone’s an expert at everything. Of course not.
My point is for you to notice if you’re not acknowledging your expertise and if you’re downplaying it.
I hope you check to see if you might be using “lack of expertise” as resistance.
It’s possible that, sometimes, we hold ourselves back and keep ourselves small and don’t expand ourselves as much as we could because of the lack of the label of expertise.
Maybe You’re Not an Expert (Yet)
Maybe that label is not required or important for what you’re doing. Or maybe it doesn’t fit yet. You can also call yourself a learner, a hobbyist. You could say you have knowledge in an area without calling yourself an expert.
Just notice if you use one set of standards for other people and a higher set of standards for yourself.
Coming full circle to what prompted this topic, I have been practicing asking myself and trusting my own expertise first when I think of a question. It’s caused me to come up with some really interesting and exciting answers and realizations – so I highly can highly recommend this practice.
And, at the same time, I still do love checking in with other experts. I still love researching and finding different perspectives and leaning on the benefits of other people’s time, experience and formal study that usually goes into developing expertise.
So it’s a win-win for me either way! And I’m hoping you’re starting to see some benefits for noticing and giving yourself credit for your own expertise as well.
P.S. did you hear about the Journal Shop?
I’ve opened a journal and notebook shop. I’m developing expertise in a new area and I’m having so much fun!
And yes, I am in the middle of the scientific process. I’m trying things out, learning from my mistakes and repeating the cycle. I can already see specific examples of ways I’ve improved and things I’ve learned. And no, I don’t think I’m an expert journal creator yet – but I can see that it’s a possibility in the future! Check out the Journal Shop!