What makes you an expert?

I hope all is well in your world.

Mine is OK — we're finding a rhythm of work in our business for the year and we're also, always, always, thinking about what the next few steps will look like.

Not just the next step, the next few...

I've started the content strategy module in The Strategy Masterclass and I'm keeping my fingers crossed it will be ready for an early June release. It’s exciting for me to see a new batch of students interested in strategy.

Today, I was reminded of something from a few years ago and I'd like to share it with you.

A few years ago I was in a non-client meeting with a group of colleagues and friends, and I must've said something — my usual bullshit — and someone replied to me, challenging my opinion and recommendation with the following:

"What makes you an expert?"

This question had me second-guessing myself. I stopped, paused and replied admitting that "I have no idea what makes me an expert!"

And in fact, this is true. I have no idea if I’m an expert at what I do, or not but the feeling that followed was murky and I was filled with questioning and self-doubt.

We all laughed it off nervously and continued doing what we were doing, but this question hung over my head all week.

Not because expert status is something I aspire to, but this person's opinion seemed to matter to me.

Questions raced through my head:

  • What if I'm not good enough?

  • Am I treading water?

  • Can anyone call themselves an expert?

  • What gives me the right?

  • How do we know when someone is an industry leader?

  • An expert in their field? What comes together to create expertise?

And then. 

"Am I good enough?"

I didn’t know where to start, so, as we do, I turned to the Internet. 

And shit got scary. 

It’s seems that experts are everywhere and there really isn’t anything special about them. I found that 10,000 hours of hard work will get you expert status according to some. It also seems you can buy yourself a masters degree and attain some form of accepted expertise.

You can amass a few thousand followers to give you the shallowness of a ‘like’ every now and then, and “boom!” you’re an expert of sorts.

You can surround yourself with people who call you an expert, pat you on the back, give you social media shout outs and give you a little clique to belong to - its good for the ego, but as Yoda would say, “Expert level, it is not.”

We all begin our careers seeking to become experts in our fields and we push ourselves through the accepted system of education — some push a little harder than others, whilst others bypass it all together and forge their own path. 

We all begin, it seems, seeking some kind of validation from others.

We seek their opinion and their view of us as getting better. Growing. Becoming more than what we were.

The questions kept coming and this week as I was reminded of this little self-doubting episode from a few years ago, the questions resurfaced: 

What does it all mean? Does it matter? Whose feedback do I seek?

As I was asking myself these questions I turned to Netflix

As you do.

With her thick Texan accent, Brené Brown answered my call and helped me understand that the view of expertise and any other for that matter, only counts if you’re in the arena with me.

If you're in the cheap seats, not putting your skin in the game and throwing opinions. Stay there and enjoy the view.

I'll let Brené take us out...


“If you are not in the arena, getting your ass kicked on occasion, because you were being brave. 

I am not interested in, or open to your feedback about my work.

There a millions of cheap seats in the world today. Filled with people who will never once step foot in that arena. 

They will never once put themselves out there.

But they will make it a full time job, to hurl criticism and judgment and really hateful things toward us.

And we have got to get out of the habit of catching them and dissecting and holding them close to our hearts.

We’ve got to let them drop in the floor.

Don’t grab that hurtful stuff from the cheap seats and pull it close.

Don’t pull it anywhere near your heart.

Just let it fall to the ground.

You don’t have to stomp it or kick it. 

You just have to step over it and keep going.

You can’t take criticism and feedback from people who are not being brave with their lives.

It will crush you.”

Jim Antonopoulos