How to be an expert.

I’ve been mulling this subject over in my mind for a while now. On the cusp of changes at work, and possibly to my career, I’ve been trying to work out what, if anything, I’m expert in.

Being expert doesn’t come naturally to a scanner—we’re generalists. But naturally there are some subjects, through passion, experience or damn hard work, in which I’m more expert than others. Horses, through a degree course and years of practical experience, is one area I used to be confident about. I’ve not even sat on a horse in the past four years though, so does that mean I’m no longer expert? I’ve worked on a community and environmental grants scheme since 2007, so I think that’s something I’m quite good at. Eight years of being an allotment holder makes me relatively confident about growing vegetables and fruit—but not in horticulture generally, in which I am very novice. I don’t consider my three years of blogging to make me anything other than a novice blogger; I wonder how other bloggers feel?

In an age where anyone can declare themselves an expert merely by writing the word in their Twitter biography, how much value does it hold? (and how many Social Media Experts does one society need?) Who decides what makes that person an expert anyway? Where does the burden of proof lie?

When everyone has been given a voice, through blogs such as mine, or other online platforms, is opinion being mixed up with being expert? Just because I think something doesn’t make me an expert; in that case, my opinion should rightly be of less value than that of someone else who has had decades of practice or study in a subject area. During an evening spent with a friend recently, we discussed his passion for anthropology, and Native American culture in particular. Only after decades’ worth of study and travel is he finally feeling confident enough to write papers for publication.  He has the authority now to have opinions of his own, and not to parrot those of other people—and yet he still doesn’t consider himself to be an expert in the subject.

They say the path to career happiness lies in working out what you’re good at, what you enjoy and where the crossovers are. So I need to work out first what I’m good at. What I’m expert in. But how do I go about finding out and being sure? Is it all a matter of acquiring some more self belief? Or is everyone else just bluffing?

Do you know?

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8 Comments to “How to be an expert.”

  1. Do you need to be an expert? I was having similar conversations recently and think that I’ve decided to embrace my scanner tendencies. Life’s too short to spend it absorbed in one subject, I’d rather experience as much as possible!

    • I think it’s more about trying to work out what in good at – because I’m facing lots of changes at work – in case I should/could have a stab at doing something different for a living. In an ideal world, that’d be a portfolio of lots of different jobs, each for some of the time, instead of one full time job.
      But then someone just told me it takes 10,000 hours to be expert in something – which I doubt I’ll ever spend on any one thing!! Maybe you’re right, should just embrace the scanner-ness….

  2. I loved this quote from Alexandra Franzen’s blog – I thought of it as soon as I saw the title to your post:

    In Japanese, the word “sensei” literally means “one who has gone before,” not “one who knows absolutely everything + never makes any mistakes + has twelve PhDs and stuff.”

    So I do think having a little faith in your own abilities is key. You’d be surprised what expertise you do have – talking to someone with no knowledge of your subject is a surefire way to show you that!

    However, on another strand, in feminist studies and activism, lived experience is the best (and sometimes) only way to gain expertise. This is usually applied when describing oppression and working ways to combat it, but I think that it’s an interesting way to look at expertise – I may study something my whole life, but will I ever know as much as the person who has lived it?

    • Thank you for this wonderful comment. That’s a great quote – I love Alexandra Franzen too.

      I think, in the case of the kind of work I want to move into, that lived experience is the best thing too – in that no amount of theoretical study will beat getting my hands dirty!

  3. Interesting one, I think having a passion about something and some knowledge means you start to be in a position to share your opinion on it. Providing you do it with some humility I don’t think you necessarily need to be ‘expert’.
    I would love to have a career connected to running but have kind of accepted that probably has to remain a hobby and use my current career to fund that hobby 🙂

    • That’s a really valuable point; sharing, but with humility. I like that a lot. I think that it’s probably easier for me to change career as I’ve not a lot to lose – no mortgage, for a start! Sometimes it’s better to keep things as a hobby though, I think, so you don’t lose the passion for them.

  4. I often wonder this myself, and you describe my feelings exactly. Sometimes I feel that whatever I write about on the blog, there are others who know far more about that subject. For example I’m interested in plastic-free living, but Beth Terry’s plastic-free life blog knows far more than I ever will. And I’m interested in zero waste, but I’d never be as waste-free as Bea from Zero Waste Home. And so it goes on. But then I think to myself, there’s plenty of other people out there who are trying to muddle through and figure out their direction, so maybe I don’t need to be an expert, but someone who is sharing how they muddle through, and maybe that inspires others? At least I hope so!

    • I think you’re absolutely right, it’s the fact you’re sharing how you’re getting along that matters, rather than trying to be the best. I feel that people are perhaps more likely to respond positively to someone who shares, even though it’s not ‘perfect’ anyway – it feels more human, I think.

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