When Can You Consider Yourself an Expert?

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“I’d like you to share your expertise.”

A few months back, a friend asked me to teach his manager how to tweet. His manager had never used a Twitter and his department was pressuring executives to become more comfortable with social media; I was tasked to help him start from scratch.

It was a reasonable request, mostly harmless for anyone who had even a week’s worth of experience with Twitter. It was like learning how to kick from anybody who had played a minute in a soccer game.

The honest barrier? The word “expertise” shook me.

What made me close to an expert?

I began to think of all the influencers I knew that lived and breathed Twitter.

I thought of those with followers in the millions.

I thought of those with awards, certificates, and books.

The more I ruminated, the less confident I felt about my alleged “expertise” in the matter.

What if they asked a question completely beyond my breadth of experience? What if they asked about a specific statistic I knew nothing about?

Expertise seems to almost dance around the idea of invincibility. Are experts allowed to be wrong? Are they allowed to be indecisive? In my mind, experts were equated to “Pundits” and “Gurus”- a symbol of authoritative knowledge. They were PhDs, seasoned career professionals, and thought leaders. They were authors, speakers, and talk show guests. They weren’t random people wearing untied shoes, drinking way too much La Croix and bumming around on Twitter.

This wasn’t the first or last time I felt strange around this word.

I immediately begin deflecting it with self-deprecation.

I would tell people to “lower their expectations” if they wanted an expert.

It didn’t seem like humility; it felt like honesty.

It was eventually something I read on Reddit that helped me realize something funny about expertise:

An expert is nothing more than someone a little bit further ahead of you.

That’s it.

It spoke to the company bitfoundation, who use volunteers to teach iOS development. Their volunteers have no science degrees. They’re not professional programmers. They’re simply regular people who have struggled to learn iOS and have used their failures to better understand their students.

In the eyes of their students, they are experts.

We live in a world now where online courses and youtube videos can allow individuals to pick up new tangible skills fast. It’s a Google-driven world — you can learn anything at a tap of a button.

Once you learn a skill, are you qualified to teach others?

In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell claims that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Gladwell studied the lives of extremely successful outliers to find out how they achieved success. The tale of how Bill Gates and Paul Allen spent over 10,000 hours of programming at Lakeside Preparatory School before starting Microsoft is embedded in entrepreneurial lore.

Perhaps it’s not the practice of achieving mastery that has changed — it’s the perception of expertise.

There are many subject matter experts and doctorate students that have most likely conquered a niche topic. I would trust Neil Degrasse Tyson or Robert Frost on Quora with even the most esoteric of space-related questions.

There are also many people that can consider non-professionally accredited people experts. It doesn’t take being invincible to be accessible or reliable. It doesn’t take authoritative knowledge to have unique perspectives. It doesn’t take a lack of failure to have a story of strength and understanding.

Just because you have room to learn, doesn’t mean you don’t have room to teach.

To the average Twitter user, I’m probably not an expert.

To a Social Media Marketing guru, I’m definitely not an expert.

To someone who has never used Twitter before, I may be an expert.

That’s the perspective that matters.

Kushaan is a growth associate at Livongo based out of the Bay Area and enjoys sharing insights around Growth, careers, and personal anecdotes. He also likes meaningless controversies (check out ranking of the best fast food fries) and spending his days finding the best Super burrito in San Francisco. All opinions are his own. Get in touch here or via @kushaanshah on Twitter.

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