At the end of my tenure at a residential treatment program for young kids in Colorado, my boss told me that I was an expert in residential treatment because of how many years I had worked in that type of setting and the extent of training I had received throughout those years. Cool, I was an expert. But am I still an expert in it having not worked in that setting for four years?
Anyone who has first hand knowledge or experience in an area about which we would like to learn more information is often called the expert.
But is my friend who went to Iceland last year really the supreme source of knowledge for how to travel in Iceland? Nope. But I trust their recommendations. For all intents and purposes, we can call the internet an expert because of how many questions we ask it and how blindly we assume its authority.
Expert is defined in the dictionary as "a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area". Notable characteristics of this definition include:
It is important to note that "authoritative knowledge" does not mean "absolute knowledge", but rather enough knowledge to be considered a leader in that subject area. This is important to note because, by definition, an Expert is not actually as idealized as the ultimate authority figure we often presume them to be.
Because of the fact that we humans so often deify those we believe are experts for the sake of our own control, certainty, and survival, we place peers on a high pedestal on top of which we all would not mind spending time in our own industries. As a result, the idea of expertise becomes an idealized goal that is located so high above us.
For some, yes, this can be used as healthy motivation in their career or education, but more often than not people succumb to the pressure of becoming an expert to the point where it is instead detrimental to their career or education.
The concept of expertise that most people seek is idealized because of the fact that it is not clearly defined for each person. Saying "My goal is to become an expert" is just as ambiguous as saying "My goal is to achieve success."
Actionable definitions of expertise and success are unique to every person. Idealizing expertise glorifies it. Not only that, it transforms its pursuit from one of genuine fulfillment into something completely ego-driven for the sake of the title of Expert.
Many clients of mine have come to me feeling stuck on the idealized form of Expertise because its idealization teased their perfectionism, and their perfectionism diminished their self-confidence and self-worth.
Therefore, idealizing something like Expertise without defining it for yourself is ultimately harmful to your self-worth.
Refer back to the dictionary definition above. Take a breath and remind yourself that an expert does not and cannot know every single piece of information in their respective industry and having an authoritative knowledge is not the same thing as an absolute knowledge. Then come up with your own definition of Expertise that is unique to your industry.
- What knowledge would you possess in your image of yourself as an expert?
- What would you be able to do / say / teach as that unique version of an expert?
- What would you feel?
Remember the triad of values, skills, and goals? If that is drawn out as an equilateral triangle, your unique definitions of Expertise and Success will reside right in the middle.