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If Thinking You Need to Be an Expert Has Kept You Stuck, Read This

Photo: Marc Schiele/Unsplash

May 4, 2020

I spent most of my twenties and thirties feeling uncomfortable and “less than” because it was clear to me that I wasn’t an expert at any one thing. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the belief that being an expert at something was “the goal.”

You don’t need to be an expert, and here’s why.

It’s Important Where You Put Your Ladder

In my forties, while having a conversation with a friend about our insecurities, I began to see the problem with greater clarity. I realized I had put my ladder on the wrong wall! It was a ladder I had been climbing forever, and I was exhausted. I wanted a new view because having my ladder on that particular wall was getting me nowhere.

When I fix my attention on being an expert, I immediately notice the countless people who know more about what I’m interested in than I do! Because of course, they are everywhere.

There will always be folks who know more than me about almost everything.

Surprisingly, instead of feeling bad, recognizing I was between a rock and a hard place and would never achieve “the goal,” I breathed a sigh of freedom and relief.

Instead of torturing myself with questions like, “Why aren’t I an expert in anything yet?” — I came up with new questions:

      • Where do I want to put my ladder?
      • What are the things that give me a sense of fulfillment and vibrancy and “enoughness” that I used to think would come from finally being an expert?
      • What exactly makes me feel like I’m “enough?”

As it turned out, the answer was pretty simple. I feel just fine when I drop the idea that I should be anything other than who I am.

That’s the wall that will give us the best view, and the opportunity to be happy. Becoming experts on ourselves. That’s the expertise that means something. Because until we know and accept ourselves, we will be holding something back. But when we have the courage to put it all on the table, and there’s nothing more to hide, there’s nothing to lose. We can be all that we can be, right now.

Stopping the incessant striving has brought me increasing joy from the things about which I am already passionate. I’ve learned I don’t need to become an expert on what brings you joy. I can benefit from it, but I can stop twisting myself into a pretzel to try to replicate it. I can just ask you for help.

As a therapist and coach, I want to keep my attention on being effective and open to learning whatever might make a positive difference in someone’s life, and at the same time, bring joy into my life, my work, and capitalize on my innate talents.

I am passionate about maintaining mindfulness as a foundation for my life, and about finding new ways to apply it.

I love writing. Maintaining my Seedlings blog is one of the most satisfying and long-lasting projects I’ve taken on.

I love sharing life with my partner and with family and friends.

Passing years have helped me see I am at my best when my ladder is on the wall that represents me being fully present and coming from my heart.

Take Advantage of Flow

When I’m worrying less about how much I know compared with how much somebody else knows, I fall into a state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote about in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal ExperienceHe teaches us how we can greatly improve the quality of our lives by ordering the information that enters our consciousness.

A friend recently said, “I’m sick of reading that I need to become all that I can be to make the world a better place. What if this is it? What if this is who I am, and that’s all I can be?”

I’m with her! There’s something off-putting and exhausting about always striving or being around someone who is. Learn more, achieve more, be more, accumulate more…

Striving is insidious when we become incapable of enjoying who we are at this moment. Since the beginning of the Coronavirus spread it has never been clearer that we are not in control of anything but managing ourselves, hopefully in ways that will benefit us and others.

Certainly, we need experts, never more than we need them today. But my measuring stick for my own progress is forever changed. I am comfortable with the idea that in many ways, I’m just average, and in a few areas — spatial skills, internal GPS, and advanced math — I’m sadly lacking.

Today I see expertise for what it is, a result of continuing and concerted attention directed toward something I love. When I feel insecure, I no longer see it as a reminder that I’m not enough.

Ask for Help

Before the conversation with my friend, as a small business owner, I had been struggling with the idea I should not only be an expert in my chosen field — I should also be an expert at administration and billing. I don’t have an accountant bone in my body, yet I been torturing myself with the idea that I should be a billing expert. Nuts!

I hired a biller. He has become one of my favorite people on the planet. He knows what he’s doing. He thinks of things that have never occurred to me. He keeps me up to date with great reports that I don’t have to create, much less maintain. And he deals with insurance companies! Anyone who for any reason has had to deal with insurance companies knows what I’m talking about. He is a Godsend.

My lack of accounting expertise doesn’t say anything about whether or not I’m enough. It means sometimes I need help. How lovely, I get to work with someone who has enough expertise to meet my needs. I can support his business, and endlessly praise him for being exactly what I needed, which makes both of us happy. If you ever need a biller, let me know–I’ve got your guy!

You are enough. I am enough. We are enough.

Last thought. Is there anything you’ve been putting off doing, thinking you might look foolish, or make a mistake because you’re not an expert? Is there perhaps another wall for your ladder that might give you a different perspective with a new window or door?

Much love,