by Mallie Toth Rydzik
Think of someone you know and respect. This could be a friend, teacher, writer, or celebrity. In your head, you should be picturing someone who is great at what she does—someone you would go to if you had a problem in her area of expertise.
I’m thinking of my hair stylist.
Not what you were expecting?
When most people hear the term “expert,” they imagine people like Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Oprah, or a professional athlete. These people have worked their way up in their fields, often obtaining advanced degrees, displaying uncommon talent, or indirectly earning their “expert” title through their unusually high income or assets (if someone is paying them a lot of money to do things, they must be good!). Perhaps even more universally, these people are well known.
My hair stylist has a high school diploma and was a teen mom. She is the manager of her salon, but the salon is one of those strip mall franchises with low-cost haircuts. She probably isn’t making a very high annual salary.
She is also in high demand in the small town that I’m from.
Why is that?
She is great at what she does.
It doesn’t matter that she is “just” a hair stylist. I can’t cut my own hair well (really, I’ve tried), so I seek out someone who can.
That is the real essence of expertise: knowing how to do something a bit better than other people who need your services.
I’ve seen a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs get hung up on their presumed lack of expertise in their field, fearing that no one will hire them until they reach the magical 10,000 hours that some researchers say make you an expert.
But really, the reason people are going to hire you is because you know more than they do. Sure, depending on your field you may need a degree or two to back that up—I doubt you will start a successful medical practice in a developed country without those credentials!
Let your audience know your background. Talk about what you know. There is no one in the world who has the exact same repository of knowledge as you do! You are an expert in something; you just might have to do a little soul searching to figure out the details.
What does it really take to be an expert?
Confidence, clear communication, and a little more knowledge about a subject than the person you are teaching.
Mallie is a self-employed writer, editor, tutor, coach, consultant, and solopreneur with a Master’s degree in atmospheric science. She refuses to acquiesce to society’s desire to attach a single label to her. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area with her husband and two cats, Radar and Twister. She blogs about science and culture at mallie.me and about personal development with mental health obstacles at www.theirrationalmind.com.