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#98 – Why None of Us Are Truly Experts
And why that's a good thing.
I know a lot about storytelling, and writing, and brands, and marketing a business. I know a ton about strategy. More than the average bear. But I always pause when I go to describe myself as an expert and hesitate when others do. And, no, this is not about imposter syndrome—that is not an illness that I have ever succumbed to. I am very good at what I do, partly because I love it, partly because I have a lot of practice. But still, the term expert does not sit well.
Not to say I don’t use the word. People like to hear that they’re hiring an expert—someone who knows what they’re doing and I want to give them that reassurance. Even more people like to assume the position and title for their LinkedIn pages (and maybe for klout?) whether or not it’s true. I get it. It’s a clear way to say, “I know a lot about a given subject.” And there are people out there with PhDs and years of experience who are truly experts, they know more than most of us about a given topic.
But the reason I’m skeptical about expertise is not about what we call ourselves but what it means to call ourselves experts. Because I believe the best teachers and knowledge sharers, or storytellers are ones who know they are still on a learning journey. Who remain on a path of exploration and discovery even as they share what they’ve learned along the way. In a writing class a few years ago, the person leading the webinar said something that rang so true to me I memorized it on the spot. They said, “You’re probably not writing to share some knowledge. More likely, you’re writing toward the knowledge.” Yes. Almost always, yes. When I write, it’s not because I know, but because I’m trying to understand. Strategy, storytelling, marketing, sharing of ourselves, it’s all part of a larger process of discovery in all its magical forms. It’s why I believe so fervently in the power of curiosity.
It's related to what Stanford University professor, Carolyn Dweck describes as a growth mindset in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She later summed up her research findings in the Harvard Business Review by explaining: “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning.”
It's about the growth that comes with continuous learning, with staying curious, and understanding that even when you know a lot there’s so much more to learn and understand—so many new connections to make. AND that you are capable of it. It’s why I like to consider myself more an explorer than expert.
Marie Forleo, a teacher and coach I have followed for years (and am lucky enough to work with as a mentor in her business programs), encourages her students to stay open to what they can learn even when they consider themselves an expert on a subject. It’s one of the most important lessons I learned from her many years ago and one I return to when thinking about my own ongoing education. When I encounter a course or talk on a subject I consider myself expert, I catch myself before I can roll my eyes and ask instead, “what more can I learn?” That single approach has made me a better writer, strategist, and business owner that I could have ever imagined being without that mindset of being open to learning more.
So yah, you may know a lot about what you do, you may know more than most people, but there is always room to learn more and grow further. And that leads to the single best outcome of sharing your story. Can you guess what I think is the single best outcome of sharing your story might be?
That’s right. You learn.
I hope this was helpful and you stay curious and open especially when it’s about a subject or topic that you consider yourself an expert in. The next time you find yourself thinking you already know this or rolling your eyes at a lesson you think you’ve learned, stop yourself and ask, “what more can I learn from this?” That’s when the fun really gets going.
A Story Well Told
I wish you could smell my apartment right now. It is fragrant with the uplifting perfume notes of peonies. My favourite flower. In my humble opinion, they are incomparable. May and June are Peony season, it’s the one time of year they bloom naturally here in the northern hemisphere (if you’re on the other side of the world, let me know if they come in different months for you). For a brief beautiful period, each year the world and air comes alive with them. And if you’ve ever watched a peony move through the subtle shifts of life from colourful bulb to bright blooming expulsion of colour and life, you would know immediately why basically I’m shouting out mother nature this week. There’s nothing like it. It is poetry, music, and drama all in one. I find them absolutely irresistible. This time lapse video of a peony blooming gives you a sense of the experience. Let me know of any other flowers that give you that same “oh my god, how beautiful” feeling. I’d love to experience more.
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