Let’s face it:
If you’re an entrepreneur or consultant…
Sometimes you just don’t feel like an expert
It happens. Maybe you have a setback in your biz, or you have a tough week, or you just find yourself overshadowed by the seemingly all-conquering powers of a leading competitor.
It’s on these occasions that you find yourself thinking:
“Am I really an expert?
Do I actually know what the heck I’m talking about, or am I just kinda… average at this?”
The doubts creep in. Maybe you peer into the mirror, looking for that expert.
Hey, know what all this makes you?
Of course you’re an expert in your field – perhaps more than one field.
(Maybe you roam between fields, like an adventurous cow.
Ok, weird analogy.)
But it’s important not to get too hung up on the times when you don’t feel like an expert.
Because we’ve all been there at some point…
And yes, that includes ‘The Experts’:
Your Seth Godins, Joanna ‘CopyHackers’ Wiebes, Sir Alex Fergusons and probably everyone who’s really really damn good at something.
(Apart from Kanye, who is completely oblivious of the concept of self-doubt.)
At times, it can be helpful to remind yourself of what an expert looks like, so you can kick things back into perspective.
Trouble is, it can be hard to nail down just what the hell an expert is supposed to like.
But you give it a shot anyway…
What does an expert look like?
You picture someone in their element, holding forth about the topic they know best. Maybe it’s your topic.
In this situation, your expert probably looks assertive, composed, thoughtful – but not furrowed-of-brow…
…and probably taller than they actually are.
(Whether you realise it or not, you look like this when you’re consulting, or discussing your specialist subject.
You may not feel that way, but to the people around you, you probably even look slightly… regal.)
This on-top-of-the-world appearance projected by the specialists you admire isn’t how they look 24/7, however.
It’s reassuring to think that – assuming they work around 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, and take a couple of weeks off each year – they’re only perceived as being an expert around 20% of the time.
The rest of the time?
They’re just ‘Joe Public’, like the rest of us.
(Or Seth, Joanna or, um, Sir Alex Public.
But never Kanye Public – which is a shame, because that is a bloody brilliant name.)
Yes, 80% of the time, people don’t “behave like an expert”. They just live life, and get by however they can.
So, what do they look like then?
They look like everybody else.
Not taller, not regal, not super-confident…
They look… human.
This really hit home to me one sunny Sunday morning.
A while back, I worked part-time in an art & philosophy bookshop here in London.
And one of our regular customers was a soft-spoken, neatly-dressed middle-aged man who would stop by on Sunday mornings before the place got busy.
He bought plenty of books, and was a great customer.
The guy was nice – always very polite. But incredibly shy.
He would fumble his change while expressing timid thank-yous at the till, and even though he was obviously pretty well-off, I didn’t have him down as a leader or innovator of any sort.
But that particular morning, he arrived with a couple of other guys.
And when I overheard them talking with him in the café attached to the shop, I knew I had to discreetly sneak a look at the scene.
Here was a man transformed…
Gone was the nervous uncertainty of his casual conversation.
The guy was talking shop – complex scientific theory – and his guests hung on his every word.
Here, suddenly, was a master of his field – an expert holding forth on his profession – and seemingly without any real effort.
His colleagues listened, asked questions and took piles of notes from his answers.
My man – ‘Professor X’ – appeared to grow taller during the discussion. He became mysterious, magnetic.
The next time I saw him, he was his usual super-polite, almost inaudible self.
But a few weeks later, I had another brief glimpse of the powerful expert 20% hidden inside that mild-mannered exterior…
This time, he took a call on his phone just outside the shop.
As I did that listening-without-appearing-to-listen thing (I’m pretty expert at this, as it happens) it dawned on me…
He was handing out a verbal ass-kicking!
Someone had seriously screwed up in science-land, and Prof X was firmly yet professionally making sure it damn well wouldn’t happen again.
Once more, it was like that scene in Lord of the Rings, when the old man leaning on a stick in Bilbo Baggins’ front room becomes the powerful wizard Gandalf the Grey, imperious and prepared for battle.
Prof X was clearly – when called upon – the go-to guy in his field (which exact field I’ll keep respectfully private).
Here was the Seth Godin of his niche, the Kanye of a very specific profession – disguised as a very ordinary, very shy middle-aged chap.
And in tweed.
So remember this…
The next time you’re feeling pretty damn ordinary and wondering how the hell you’re going to impress anyone…
…or when you’re looking in the mirror, wondering where that expert has gone…
They’re still in there, waiting patiently for their moment to shine.
We can’t all be experts 100% of the time.
And you don’t need to be a ‘jack of all trades’ to be a master of one.
You just need to keep your powder dry, exercise some control over how the people that count perceive you (this starts with your marketing messaging)…
And save your best 20% for game-day.
It’s really just a matter of managing your resources – like the expert you are.