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On Being An Expert

May 20, 2012

What does it mean to be an expert?  Does it even matter?

These questions came from a recent conversation with my son, Ry.  (Incidentally, it continues to delight me that some of the best conversations I have are with my son.)

I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling uncomfortable and ‘less than’ because I haven’t seen myself as an expert at any one thing.  Somewhere along the way I picked up the belief that being an expert at something was ‘the goal’.   As my son and I talked I began to see the problem with greater clarity.  I’ve had my ladder on the wrong wall!  When I fix my attention on being an expert, I immediately notice that there are lots of people who know more about what I’m interested in than I do!  So they will always be the experts.  Not me.  (Notice the emphasis on always, keeping me permanently between a rock and a hard place.)

So where, on what wall, do I want to put my ladder?!  What gives me a sense of fulfillment and vibrancy and ‘enoughness’?   I seem to feel just fine when I drop the idea that I should be anything other than who I am, somebody who’s fascinated by and pretty passionate about ACT therapy, and meditation, and coaching.  I’m coming to see that I want my ladder on the wall that represents me being fully present, coming from my heart, and not worrying so much about how much I know compared with how much somebody else knows.

A friend recently said, “I’m  getting pretty sick of reading that I need to become all that I can be to make the world a better place”.  I’m with her!  Isn’t it enough to kind of gag you sometimes?  Today there’s more information available to me than I can get my brain around.  And I love that!  At the same time, It can be insidious when I don’t see that expertise and brilliance for what it is– information–not my personal measuring stick.

Today I choose to put my ladder on the wall that represents fully inhabiting my life, listening deeply as one of my readers recently suggested, and bringing exquisite attention to whatever I’m doing, wherever I am, right now.

After writing the above,  I sent an email asking for help with my business accounting.  I’ve been telling myself I need to become an expert at this—because it’s my business for goodness sake—right??!!  WRONG!!!  All I need to do is acknowledge where/who I am.  Somebody who doesn’t have an accounting bone in her body (although if I relax about it I may notice a bone or two lurking in there somewhere), and needs to get her finances in order.  My lack of accounting expertise doesn’t say anything about whether or not I’m enough.  It says I need some help.  Period.  How lovely, I get to work with somebody I like and let him feel good about knowing what a huge help he’s been to me.

Is there anything you’ve been putting off because you’re afraid 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?


  1. Scott says:

    So true! In my line of work I often hear “I’m pretty technically challenged so you’ll have to forgive me.” What’s to forgive really? Personally I’m a bit sharper when it comes to technology, but car stuff you can forget. I don’t know the first thing about accounting other than bare bones basic budgeting. And home decorating? FORGET IT! I struggled for a long time with asking for help. Something I’ve learned over time, and what a stress relief let me tell you, is that acknowledging you need help doesn’t make you any less of a person. On the contrary, it makes you human. Isn’t that a wonderful place to be?

    • robyn1001 says:

      Hi Scott. Looks like we’ve both joined the human race 🙂 Thanks for your insights. Best, Robyn.

    • robyn1001 says:

      Hey Mike, you’re right. If the goal is to be an expert there are plenty of experts out there in every field–no need to reinvent the wheel 🙂 Love, Aunt B.

  2. Kirsten says:

    I often fall for the whole I’m not an expert thing – it makes me feel like I’ve amounted to nothing in my life. So much information makes me feel overwhelmed, perhaps I do need to change my perspective to think about what I really want in life – tranquility in my case – instead of letting things like not being an expert weigh me down.

    • robyn1001 says:

      Hi Kirsten. Thanks for your comment. I agree, when I take it all a bit more lightly I seem to enjoy it a lot more. Then instead of worrying about being an expert, I’m just enjoying learning something new. Best, Robyn.

  3. Lisa S says:

    This got me thinking… I generally feel ok about most things and knowing I’m not an expert at anything however after reading this I kept comming back to my struggle with my “imposter syndrome”. That belief that I’m faking it or just a good BS’r and soon someone will call me out on it, despite very positive evaluations, repeat referrals, colleagues that acknowledge my good work etc. In my rational mind I know I do my job(s) well and am fairly competent but the negative thoughts always creep in that I will be found out to be a fraud blah blah blah. So the best I can do is refocus to give myself a reality check and try not to take the negative thoughts seriously. Ahh always a work in progress.

    • robyn1001 says:

      Hi LIsa. Yes! That sense of ‘no matter what anybody says, or what the evidence says, either I or they will discover I’m full of crap’ is so familiar! that’s what I love about moving the ladder. When it’s on a wall that values taking myself a little more lightly, all of a sudden i become this interested, curious scientist who’s simply learning more and living a little more deeply. It’s like the comparisons become almost irrelevant and I can revel in the fact that I can benefit from others knowing more than I do. Robyn

  4. Robyn, I really appreciate your sharing with us your self doubts. Helps the rest of us realize we’re not alone. I recently read a little gem of a book entitled: “The Why Cafe”. The story is a simple one with a fairly obvious message. What was more complicated was the challege, which was to think about what our purpose is in life. After a couple weeks of mulling this over & coming up with the usual themes for me, I had an epiphany of sorts. It was like a voice in my head saying “It’s to love”! Wow, for me this was so helpful, simple and easy that I seemed to miss it previously. For me this really helped. I suppose maybe because it relieved me of all the complicated stuff I thought I was all about. This really seems to be enough for me now. I do still have to remind myself, but life just got easier and better. I have shared my experience with other people, including those I counsel, but I have left out what my conclusion was so as to not influence them as I believe the process of spending time and attention on the subject is what was most important. So I have just spilled the beans to you. Just as long as we realize that one answer is the for everybody. However, now I understand how the Beatles influenced me so much. After all: all you need is Love.

    • robyn1001 says:

      Hey Bill. I think epiphany’s the right word–pretty profound! What a gift to be able to share parts of our journey with each other. Thank you so much. Robyn.

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