Comprehensive Knowledge and Skill Does Not Mean You’re An Authority

Man playing banjoGo ahead. Feel free.

Fire away!

Ask me a question about pregnancy, labor & delivery, postpartum, or breastfeeding. What would you like to know?

I’ve spent three decades as a Certified Perinatal Educator. I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of expectant couples, new moms and dads, and their precious babies.

Prior to that, I spent a decade as a radiologic technologist. Great career! I loved it, especially the opportunity to work with students.

Teaching is one of my biggest passions in life.

For that matter, ask me a question about marketing your small business … or blogging … or social media … or networking … or event planning (I completed the most awesome and extensive college course in event planning and passed all my exams with flying colors!)

Heck! Throw in some questions about writing poetry or making music. Those are always fun.

Chances are darn good I’ll have the answers … and be more than happy to spill the beans.

Do I consider myself an expert in all these areas? Am I an authority?

Nope.

I don’t even like the word, “expert”. It implies “know-it-all” — folks who profess to have all the answers and don’t like to be questioned or criticized.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t get into a debate with an alleged expert. They’re inflexible and refuse to be challenged. And, sadly, some have “arrogant” as their middle name.

Spend an hour online researching social media marketing, for example, and notice how many people call themselves experts.

Kind of a ballsy claim, if you ask me.

Here’s the truth:

I don’t know it all. And I hope I never do.

I believe if you stop learning, you may as well stop living. For me, living and learning walk hand in hand and there’s no shame in admitting you don’t know everything.

A broader knowledge base than the next guy and more years of experience under your belt doesn’t make you an expert, in my opinion.

It does, however, make you a doggone good go-to person, a reliable resource, a credible colleague, a person worth networking with, and what I like to call a “seasoned professional”.

Read more from my fellow carnies on the topic of experts in this month’s Word Carnival, Being an Expert Doesn’t Mean You Know Everything.

Image credit: Gratisography

  • Hi Mel, love the new look of your blog.

    Great post as always, I just enjoyed reading it to find out more about the ubiquitous and thoroughly interesting person you are. Perhaps that is the point. A well rounded, thoughtful, curious person always keen to learn more for themselves or on behalf of others is much more likely to connect with a client with a real desire to help them than someone who knows it all.

    The word expert is not so dirty I think in Australia, maybe smaller country less people making the claim, but I sure get that you need to be very careful before you append the word to yourself!

    • Hi Sandy

      Thanks for noticing I’m using a new theme/design here. You have an eagle eye. 🙂

      You hit the nail on the head and expressed precisely what I was hoping to convey! ” A well rounded, thoughtful, curious person always keen to learn more for themselves or on behalf of others” describes someone I’m very likely to want to befriend and/or work with.
      No stuffed shirts for me! 😉

  • “I believe if you stop learning, you may as well stop living.” Absolute truth!! You know, there are people I trust, there are those I’d take advise from, but I don’t know if I’d ever call them experts – I don’t know if they’d call themselves experts, which makes me trust them all the more!

    • I have my tent pitched in that same camp, Ashley. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • I so want to learn how to play the banjo! Jealous.
    So true ‘experts’ are rigid and arrogant (usually). I feel bad for them.

    • Banjo lessons. Why not, Halley?! Or maybe the saxophone. They’re both sexy instruments. 😉

      By the way, have you ever noticed how even the most accomplished musicians don’t call themselves experts? They may perform better than anyone else on the planet but they continue to learn and grow. For some, mastering their craft is a lifetime endeavor.

      From what I’ve witnessed, ‘true’ experts eat humble pie for breakfast. It’s those lovely self-appointed experts who tend to come off as ‘rigid’ and sometimes ‘arrogant’. Like you, I feel bad for them. Doesn’t have to be that way. Honestly, my gut tells me it’s their insecurities at play.

      Elated to have you as a new member of the Word Carnival!

  • The first time I ever encountered a dislike for the word “expert” was while I was putting together Prosperity’s Kitchen. Part of what I’d planned included a visit each week from a “Guest Expert.” Every person I invited using those terms seemed to have no qualms about it. Except for one: Erica Napoletano. She told me she’d do it, but only if I agreed not to call her an Expert. Kinda opened my eyes. So I changed the term to Guest Mentors and we were off and running. Erica knew what you said (and what the other carnies are saying this month) — that the moniker is a false one and can get us all into hot water if we’re not careful.

    • Leave it to Ms. “N”! Good for Erica, Tea — a gal with her non-expert head screwed on straight. That Prosperity’s Kitchen “eye opener” was no coincidence. 😉

      Just my opinion, but …
      The word, “expert”, makes me believe it’s all over; it’s done; no stars to reach for; you’re finished; there’s no more to accomplish; no greater heights to reach; nothing more to learn.

  • Melanie I love this line – I don’t even like the word, “expert”. It implies “know-it-all”

    I agree with everything you’ve written – especially the part that you’re not really living unless you’re learning. Yet I’ll confess there are times I call myself an expert, or that I have that expertise. Before you give me 50 lashes with a wet noodle hear me out.

    I realized in my marketing and sales dialogue that people have become conditioned to look for “experts”. To avoid or refuse the word in my core competency (all things numbers) was actually forcing me to start with one strike, maybe two, against me. Instead what I tell potential customers is that yes I’m an expert, and that means I’ll only take you on as a client if I know I can help you and give a good return on the money you invest in my services.

    Plus one other perspective to mull over – relativity. I have a first degree black belt. Compared to someone without any martial arts experience I am an expert Yet when I look at someone who achieves Master level in my style I feel like a beginner. Thing is, from a white belt’s point of view we’re both experts and we’re both qualified to teach that white belt.

    • Here’s the thing, Nicole …

      “I” consider you an expert. When it comes to numbers and business finances, you rock! I realize there may be some gray area in using the term, “expert”, but in your field, it’s best and most appropriate. Clients and potential clients expect to see it in your copy … or they’ll move on and look elsewhere.

      My ex has a black belt in judo and he definitely calls himself an expert. 😉

      No lashes with wet noodles! LOL!

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  • Melanie, you used the same word I did – “know it all”! So true. I don’t think I’ve ever ever in my life heard someone who REALLY knows their s#!% refer to themselves as an expert. That’s a designation that either: 1. other people give them because they are smart and amazing or 2. they give themselves because they are SO not smart and amazing that they need to pretend they are by playing semantic games.

    You must have room to grow and room to be wrong. “Experts” don’t have the time or space for that. And don’t even get me started on the “social media expert”! Sadly it sells and people love to buy junk as long as the price tag is small enough.

    How about us non experts go off for a nice glass of wine and let them all rot?

    • Wine?! Did I hear you say a glass of wine, Carol Lynn?? I’m in! LOL!

      Thanks for joining the party and for sharing your [non-expert] thoughts. 🙂

      Yeah … cheap junky stuff. People just LOVE to buy it! I’m all for budget-friendly biz-building tools and trainings, etc., but I’m adamantly opposed to useless garbage.

  • “I don’t even like the word, ‘expert’. It implies ‘know-it-all’ — folks who profess to have all the answers and don’t like to be questioned or criticized.”

    This made me think of whether or not I would ever refer to myself as an “expert” at anything. The impulse *not* to use this word to describe myself is more than simple humility at work: it definitely has a “know-it-all” ring to it. Could you imagine introducing yourself as an “expert” to someone you just met? My guess is that that person’s eyes would roll, and he or she would be quick to find someone else to talk to.

    I am so with you on this! 🙂

    • Hey Molly! Thanks for the visit.

      NO! I cannot imagine myself including the word, “expert”, in a personal intro. The implication rings of boasting and far-reaching claims.

      Don’t get me wrong …
      Students I’ve taught and others I’ve helped along the way will say I’m exceptionally good at what I do. Some will even proclaim I’m the “best”. As much as that fills my heart with joy and makes me proud I’ve made a difference in peoples’ lives, it doesn’t bring me to “expert” status.

      Ever heard the phrase, “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians”? That’s what I see happening online these days. Everyone and their uncle is claiming to be an expert. Personally, I’m not buying into it. I’d rather do business with professionals who know they have limitations and aren’t afraid to say so.

    • THIS, +10000. I’m expert on maybe one or two very narrow slices of what I do. I’m perfectly competent for the vast majority of the other things. I’m OK with that.

      • Bravo, Annie! Well said!!

        What I love about you is the confidence and conviction that oozes from your pores. You know your stuff. You know your strengths. You know where you shine. With you, there’s no wavering, no question marks. You’re clone-worthy! 🙂

  • Absolutely love it Melanie…I agree whole heartedly that we should never stop learning, then we stop breathing, there is always more to learn which sparks life into us as we grow our knowledge regardless of our age.

    • Anything that “sparks life into us” is a good thing, Michelle! A valuable lesson, an interesting experience, new friends, happy clients, fresh ideas, a problem solved, well-written stories, a makeover, home-cooked meals, and even comments on our blogs. 🙂

      Thanks for dropping in!

  • I loved this article, Melanie! Great points that we sometimes tend to forget! We are always learning. It’s what makes life interesting!

    • You better believe it, Denisse! Life would be as dull as a butter knife if we chose to stop looking, listening, laughing (at ourselves), and learning.

      Thanks for catching my post and welcome to the Word Carnival! Excited to have you and Yaritza on board. 🙂

  • “I believe if you stop learning, you may as well stop living.” – Amen to that, Melanie! “seasoned professional” is a much better description than expert. Great read! 🙂

    • I happen to know you’re a “seasoned professional”, Sharon, and I’m glad to learn you like the term. 🙂

      It’s one thing to pin the label, “expert”, on yourself and a horse of a very different color when people view you as an expert — two different coins with different denominations.

      Thanks for swinging by!

  • One of the contractors I work with (she’s also a friend) likes to call me a “guru” to push my buttons. I love what you said, “I believe if you stop learning, you may as well stop living.”

    It’s one thing to have others see you as an expert (ahem, Tina!), but it’s another thing entirely to proclaim yourself so. You don’t usually see surgeons proclaiming themselves to be experts – it’s enough that they have the qualifications, and you would like to think that they are continuing to learn!

    Great post – and if I ever have questions about being a mom, marketing, or poetry, I know who to ask :).

    • Ew … “guru”. Rates right up there on the charts with omnipotence, doesn’t it? Sheesh. If there’s a term online I hate, it’s THAT one. 🙁

      Love your point about surgeons, Alisa, and I’m backing you up 100%. As a matter of fact, could you fathom someone billing themselves out as an “Expert Surgeon”? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? And frankly, it’s redundant! “Surgeon” implies “expertise” and “specialty” and “highly skilled”, wouldn’t you say?! At least, I hope so. LOL

      Thanks for your commentary and I’m jazzed you’ve joined the Word Carnival!

  • Great post, Melanie, and one I wholeheartedly support – not because I’m an expert on the topic. 😉

    You nailed it with the problem of believing you’re an expert on, well, anything. It closes your mind to the possibilities.

    • Howdy, Cathy, and thanks for the visit!

      All I can say is …
      A “closed mind” is a dangerous thing.

      Some who deem themselves experts are restricted by stagnation and choked off from fresh ideas. Kinda sad, really. In any aspect of life (or business), there’s always something new to learn … or at least something to get better at! I’ll use you as an example. You’re a writer. I’d have to say you excel at writing (just like Sharon Hurley Hall and many of the wonderful writers I’ve met via the interwebz). But does that mean you’re done learning or improving your skills? NO WAY. A good writer is always striving to improve.

  • Nobody ever claimed to be a telephone expert, ya know? I don’t hear anybody claiming to be a Facetime expert, a Skype expert, or a VOIP expert.

    So why so much fuss when it comes to Social Media? Well, it’s ubiquitous, for one. It’s also not totally obvious how each of these platforms work – so it’s mysterious. And there’s also an element of danger if you don’t bother to learn it (fear of missing out).

    Ubiquity, mystery, and FOMA. The magic combination that makes claims of “gurudom” “mavendom” or “expertdom” a non-trivial and untestable moniker (for the most part).

    Excellent post and things to think about, for sure!

    • I always enjoy standing at the corner where your talent meets your genius, Nick. Love the view! 🙂

      Just one thought to add to your remarks …
      Social media hasn’t been around long enough, in my opinion, for anyone to have the crust to call themselves an expert.

      Oh, and no one I know has ever called themselves an expert furniture duster or laundry sorter. LOL!