Stop Being Afraid to Call Yourself an Expert

Recently, I shared my tips for becoming a go-to expert in your field. That piece was inspired by a panel I was on at the Jacksonville Women’s Leadership Forum entitled “Game Changers: Career-Defining Moments.” I was the youngest person on the panel by a considerable margin, so I’m sure there were some in the audience wondering how I could have experienced this moment in my career already.

But I have. My career changed the day I started calling myself an expert. I was 28 the first time I claimed my expertise (and I have the ballsy email I sent to an editor at a major national publication to prove it).

Because I had no trouble declaring myself an expert, it never occurred to me that others might struggle with applying this label to themselves. The conversations I had with women after my JWLF panel inspired me to write this piece to help you become more comfortable with the “e” word.

Stop being afraid to call yourself an expert

No less than half a dozen women came up to me after the panel (and after a glass of wine made them a little more brave at a happy hour event later) to tell me they’re “probably” an expert in their area. One even told me her boss called her an expert on a specific topic recently. Yet, she’s still afraid to call herself an expert.

Here’s the bottom line: you have to believe you’re an expert and starting telling the world you’re an expert before you can make other people believe it. Some of you might be so advanced in your careers that others have figured it out despite your best efforts to hide it (like the woman I spoke with whose boss already calls her an expert), but most of you are going to have to believe it to achieve it.

When did I feel comfortable calling myself an expert?

I’m blessed with the gift of self-confidence when it comes to my work. It allows me to make bold proclamations like I did at 28 when I told an editor at Forbes that I was an expert on Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement.

That confidence comes from knowing that I do my homework. I’m a typical Type A personality, and I like to be over-prepared in every situation. When I think I know more than the average person about a subject, or more than my audience, I feel confident.

That confidence has buoyed me into claiming expertise on more than one subject: MLB’s collective bargaining agreement, the business of college sports, resumes and cover letters for sports jobseekers, using social media for professional development and building your brand through blogging and social media.

You might be an expert if . . .

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” he explores the idea that you can become an expert in anything after approximately 10,000 hours (or 3 hours per day for 10 years). If you have to quantify it, I think that’s a fair guideline. However, it obviously takes longer to become an expert at performing neurosurgery than how to craft an effective resume.

Harvard Business Review article produced a three-part test to determine if you’re an expert that doesn’t rely so much on a time metric:

1. Your performance is consistently superior to that of your peers.

2. You consistently produce successful results that are tangible or quantifiable.

3. Your performance can be “replicated and measured in a lab.” Another measurement of consistency.

As I thought about how I’ve known when I can claim the “expert” title in various areas, I realized it’s easiest to think of this Jeff Foxworthy-style.

You might be an expert if . . .

. . . you’ve answered the same question about your industry or discipline so many times you think it would be easier to just write a blog about it and send the link when people ask.

. . . you’re the person everyone in your department or company comes to for a specific type of advice or to complete or assist with a certain task.

. . . you train employees within your company on a specific topic, process or task.

. . . you’ve created content (blog, podcast, whitepaper, eBook, etc.) on a subject on a consistent basis.

. . . you’ve been asked to speak or write about a topic multiple times by outlets or organizations that are respected and influential within the given industry.

If any of these ring true for you, it’s time to start owning it – you’re an expert!

Lose the excuses and stomp out self-doubt

Calling yourself an expert doesn’t mean you’d be competitive for the Nobel Prize or even that you’re the foremost expert. To me, it means you’re qualified to write and speak on the subject. You know more than the average person in your field. People seek your advice on this subject and respect your work in this area.

Being an expert is also a journey with no finish line. You have to work to maintain your expertise – reading the latest research and keeping up with trends and changes in your industry. You can (and will) continue to learn from others.

Get out of your own head and stop coming up with excuses as to why you aren’t an expert. If you’re wondering if you could call yourself an expert, and you read through the prompts above and identified with the characteristics of an expert, you probably are an expert. Own it!


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