Thoughts & Observations

The Challenge of “Expert”

Can you, without hesitation, fill in the blanks in the following statements?

Hello, my name is _________________. I am an expert in __________________ because ________________. 

It turns out that a significant number of people, especially women, have a difficult time filling in those blanks as I discovered recently at one of the Op-Ed Project’s outstanding seminars where working through this question is a key initial exercise.

Many of us balk at the term “expert.” We leave out key details in our “because” explanations and we under estimate our level of experience.

We’ve been socialized in many ways to always adopt a stance of humility, even when that humility leads to a limitation of our power to help others.

We do so much to avoid being a braggart that we forget that what we know – what we have become experts on – has the potential to change perspective, or policy, or even lives.

Of course you don’t need to walk into a room and proclaim to everyone what school you went to and how many books you’ve written. But when you apply those same rules of social grace across the board – without regard for when the rule hurts and when it helps – you are likely minimizing yourself in a way that minimizes all of us.