Why You Are a Forever Novice in a World of Experts
How to accept your strengths and find the audience that sees you as a guru.
Sometimes people ask me for advice on things I definitely don’t feel I have the right to speak on. When I’ve asked why they wanted my advice or opinion, they said that they viewed me as having the skills and/or experience needed to better guide them. Travel, living abroad, self-publishing, writing, these are the topics I get asked most about.
I considered their responses. They ask me because they think I know more than them about something specific. We all have our own skill sets formed from our experiences and studies.
Why do we keep looking at others as “experts” and look to ourselves as forever novices? Expertise is not binary, but we keep seeing it that way. We all know someone who has studied something that can’t apply any of that knowledge in real-life, and we know people who have zero formal education on a topic but is still the most knowledgeable on the subject.
We ask people constantly for advice or help. Sometimes we look to those who know way less than we know on the matter ourselves. We find it hard to trust our own knowledge, and we are really good at downplaying our own strengths and experience while exaggerating that of others.
Reflection on all of the above is a point that helped push me to stop giving a da** and just shoot my shots. My published articles have typos and grammatical errors. I write them more to express ideas instead of with the mindset that they’re pieces to be graded or judged. Now, I don’t publish posts with glaring issues, that’s not my MO, and if a big no-no slips by me and someone points it out I am all for editing it ASAP.
The readers who are reading my articles and focusing on the flaws aren’t reading the piece for my intended purpose anyway. No matter how many mistakes they do or don’t find, the main message won’t reach them regardless. On the other hand, readers who read to understand my view or input will “get it” each time. (“Getting it” doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with it).
I was tired of gauging what ingredients were needed to label myself an expert on something. I encountered a lot of self-doubt along my journey of self-publishing my first book. I don’t have a degree in child psychology, education, biology, English, blah blah blah. All the things I thought would be beneficial to have for someone writing a children’s book about the impacts of plastic pollution, particularly related to seagulls and beaches.
“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” -Pablo Picasso
I knew someone for each degree mentioned, and people who even possess an interesting mix of the above listed. I legitimately found someone studying pollution issues for the Smithsonian with degrees in marine biology and early childhood education. They weren’t writing what I was writing. Not because I could do it better, but because I wanted to do it in the first place.
It was my specific idea and I was the one with the passion and drive to see it to fruition. I never claimed to be better in any way. The only difference I will recognize between you and me is that I wrote it and you didn’t. I took the time, faced the fear, and put in the effort.
Am I better than you? Nope.
Do I have more experience in self-publishing and writing? Maybe, now, yes.
Still, a lot to learn? Oh, yea.
Can I teach you something? Absolutely.
Your position on the ladder
There’s a lot you (and I) don’t know. But let’s pay a little more attention to what we do know. The stuff we do know about is mountains above some people. So while you’re busy breaking your neck looking up at all of those who are above you in whatever area, there is a slew of individuals looking up to you as the expert.
And at each level of the ladder we are on, we have an advantage. We can speak well and knowledgeably to the people right below us because their mindset is close to one we recently had ourselves.
Sometimes we idolize someone because they’re a big shot in marketing, or basketball, or writing, and when we finally hear them try to teach it, we don’t understand a thing. Something doesn’t click.
It isn’t because they’re fakes, and it isn’t because we are stupid. Sometimes there’s just too much distance between the two points for either one to really connect and understand one another.
Whatever you have to teach or speak about, there will be an audience for it. Make sure you focus on who that audience is so you keep your tone and message as clear as possible for that group, not worrying about reaching everyone.
When we minimize our abilities or worry others won’t find us competent enough, we are suffering from imposter syndrome.
Other signs of imposter syndrome include:
· You think you’ve gotten what you have by means of luck
· You downplay successes and reject praise
· You’re terrified of failing
· You feel guilty about your successes because you don’t feel they’re deserved
In our society, we are encouraged to internalize failure (“It’s all my fault”) and externalize success (“I couldn’t have done it without xyz”). When we fall into these thinking habits we cut off the chances to be teachers to those who want to turn to us for inspiration, guidance, and advice. Also, how annoying is it to give someone a genuine compliment and they just can’t accept it.
Stop downplaying the knowledge and skills you’re growing and gaining and start speaking with confidence. How insulting of me to scoff at someone who reaches out to me with a question or doubt. It’s a psychological aspect I need to work on if I have difficulties with self-realization and/or accepting praise.
Better yet, I share my knowledge and remember that in doing so, I am learning as well. We are all experts in our own rights. One thing we should work on is to recognize with what in particular. Sometimes it’s just about being open about what we do know, and being upfront about what we don't know.
If you’ve been wanting to start a podcast, write an e-book, speak at a conference, or share whatever it is that excites you, then do it. You are “expert” enough already for a certain audience.
“Speak on what you know, and continue to grow.”
-me…because why the hell not?