Scroll through your Facebook and Instagram timelines. Most of the sponsored posts will be a person promising to teach you how to build your dream life.
Many people want to be seen as experts today. With a positioning like that come perks like followers, fame, money, and status. People do all sorts of things that help them get seen as experts.
But there’s a deeper truth about genuine expertise that most people miss:
Expertise gets built by what you don’t do as much as what you do.
It has never been simpler to become an expert. The internet has brought down all barriers like the Berlin Wall. We no longer need deep pockets or connections higher-up to share information or insights.
On the flip side, we’ve landed in a situation where the internet is overflowing with so-called experts. Such people position themselves as experts but are far from the real deal
- They repeatedly show off their lifestyle, which is often a facade.
- They humblebrag about their achievements, connections, and experiences.
- They have minds shut tighter than a stuck jar lid.
- They constantly try to keep the spotlight on themselves.
Thus, they let a bad set of habits get in their way of building genuine expertise.
If you want to build real expertise — the kind that helps you discover your passion, become a lifelong learner, and build a fulfilling life, avoid following certain bad habits. You’ll find that building expertise is not as tough to build as cynics claim.
1. Giving All The Answers
During the early days of evolution, only leaders answered questions of the tribe. This norm got imprinted deeply in our minds.
To the level where we began to equate answers with expertise. The result is a culture where everyone rushes to give answers.
People talk over each other during meetings to appear smart. Coaches — self-proclaimed and certified alike — listen less and talk more. Managers keep barking orders and instructions. Pseudo-experts dish out unsolicited advice for everyone’s problems.
Experts don’t subscribe to this thought process. In fact, they claim they don’t even have all the answers. Instead, they use questions and share frameworks to help people figure out their own answers. In the process, experts also stretch themselves cognitively.
No two people’s journeys are alike. Even if their goals match, circumstances, and abilities make the journeys different. People who’ve built their expertise the hard way understand this, which is why they rarely jump in with solutions.
“Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world but maybe 80% of how you think the world works.” — Morgan Housel
The next time someone shares something with you, ask plenty of questions, and listen in silence. Not just in your voice but also in your mind. You won’t just understand people better; you’ll also get a better sense of how the world works.
2. Blatant Self-Promotion
Of course, genuine experts offer elementary advice on dos and don’ts. But the way they do it is different too.
Expertise stems from experience. We consider people who’ve overcome challenges similar to ours as experts.
So people who want to be seen as experts often start conversations with things like, “People often ask me…,” or “When I was working/studying at…” The underlying message is, “I’ve done something similar. So I’m right.” This is rarely useful to listeners.
Genuine experts do the opposite. Instead of sabotaging the discussion to share their own hero-story, they shine the spotlight on the takeaways.
Anecdotes and personal experiences that help people get clarity on their challenges are powerful. Experts understand this. That’s why they share their struggles and failures more than their victories. They share their vulnerabilities and learning to add value to people’s lives.
We don’t learn from our experiences as much as we learn from our reflections on them.
Sharing stories about your struggles forces you to reflect on them and draw precious lessons. Such stories also resonate better with people and let them take away ideas to use in their lives.
3. Thinking It’s Easy
The easiest way to tell genuine experts from the wannabes is to examine the tasks they take up.
Pseudo-experts choose tasks where they barely get their hands dirty. Like inspection, instruction, and imposition. Since these tasks are easy, they assume everyone’s tasks are easy. As a result, they talk down to others with condescending phrases like “This isn’t difficult” or “You’re not doing this because you lack the will.”
But when they botch up their own work (and they often do), they drown people in excuses about why their task is tougher than wrestling a gorilla.
Real experts build their wisdom by getting their hands dirty, by working hard, and making plenty of good — and bad — decisions along the way. Such experiences teach them that the same logic and effort applies to other areas as well.
That’s why they give others plenty of space to do their work and offer to contribute in any way they can, even if it isn’t their job.
Do the hard things. You won’t just build hands-on expertise. You’ll also realize that no task is easy. Even ones that appear easy have plenty of invisible moving parts.
4. All Talk, No Work
Talking is easier than taking action because it keeps us in our comfort zone. This is a common reason for the incessant meetings, social media status updates, and email back-and-forth.
Expert talkers spend much of their time barking orders, complaining, dissing people who make progress, and romanticizing their problems. And since the talking doesn’t contribute much, they try to remain relevant by micromanaging and staying “on top of everything.”
But the real experts work in silence. They execute plans, collect feedback, and refine them. When they talk, the only aim is to move things closer to completion.
The expert writer writes while the personal-brand obsessed writer glorifies writers’ block. The expert project manager collects feedback and refines action plans with her team while the pseudo-expert project manager organizes numerous meetings, each of which ends in a stalemate.
The real expert shows her expertise through action. The pseudo-expert uses fancy, hollow rhetoric to try and show his.
“When you see them, they appear to have it all under control. But when you don’t see them, they’re working furiously to keep things moving full speed ahead.” — Nicolas Cole
Talk is fun. But incessant talk sucks us in the trap of poking our noses in others’ businesses. And the only thing it lets us build expertise in is whining.
Action helps you create something useful and makes life feel fulfilling. It helps you identify which actions make sense and which are noise. You worry less about what others think, give 100 percent to a task and move on, and set yourself on the path to becoming world-class.
Genuine experts didn’t set out to become experts. They just did what they loved every day. Expertise became a byproduct of their actions.
You can build long-term expertise too.
- Stop trying to be the first to give all the answers.
- Stop focusing on yourself and your achievements.
- Stop thinking something that you don’t understand is easy.
- Stop engaging in meaningless grapevine and discussions.
True expertise stems from mastery. A life in pursuit of mastery feels meaningful. It’s one where you wake up each morning looking forward to the day. It’s one where you feel happy, fulfilled, and involved in each moment.
Isn’t such a life what you truly wish for?