Why we’re all experts and beginners

At the start of 2016 I took a yoga class with some friends in San Francisco. It served as a reminder to be a beginner — be open to learning, never assume you’re the knower of all things. In response to the teacher’s question, “Who’s a beginner in here?” we should have all raised our hands. (He was quick to call us out otherwise).

I’ve come to hate the word expert.

It feels arrogant to call myself an expert in anything. I’m thirty years old. I’ve been in the working world for seven short years. I am knowledgeable, yes. A certified registered dietitian, yes. Maybe a bit more experienced in some thing(s) than the person next to me in this coffee shop, or on the other end of an email, sure. But I’m certain there is still a LOT to learn.

I’d rather operate as a beginner. I’d rather nod when you ask if I know about nutrition, but hear your story before dishing out my “tips and tricks” (I won’t offer you those, anyway). I’d rather help where I can, but actually take the opportunity to learn from you.

We do need some expertise to get shit done.

Doctors, teachers, and lawyers are certainly needed at certain times. Otherwise, we turn to someone who has an experience we envy, or is top-rated in their field, or some mix of both. It’s easy to add an assumption that they know all things, to take a quick assessment of their situation — do I want it to be my situation? Or something similar? If yes, and yes: questions, asked!

All the questions!

Married, or happily partnered people get asked for relationship advice. Thin people get asked for diet advice. Strong and/or fast people get asked for training advice. Centenarians get asked for longevity advice. Celebrities get asked for any kind of advice on any life thing. Once we’ve decided someone “made it” in a way that we want to make it, or had a training stamped with accreditation, we color them an expert. Must uncover their “secrets!” The secret is that no two lives are the same.

And of course, internet humans offer unsolicited advice, as your “expert” du jour. All day, every day. (#o v e r s e r v e d).

But it takes a while to figure things out.

Here’s what I know as a young adult with a few years of real-world life experience: There’s no right or wrong way to do anything. There’s no right or wrong timeline for figuring shit out. Sometimes you need a certified, trained, educated-in-certain-field person to help you out. There’s no shame in that. Either way, you’ll need to get comfortable with the long haul. You’ll need to do most of your own work. You’ll become an expert in your story, and that’s yours to keep.

I think the only qualification needed for giving other humans advice, for deciding we’re both an expert and a beginner, is humility. “Here’s what I know, because of what I’ve been taught and/or what I’ve experienced,” should be the implied start of every exchange. “This may or may not work for you, because you and I are unique humans. Be patient, and observe yourself,” should be the implied conclusion.

You don’t have to be an expert to live, thrive, or help out a friend. You don’t have to be an expert to share your story, so someone else can relate. In fact, we’ll be better off as humans if you do all of the above.

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