Why I’m Proclaiming Myself a Non-Expert
On a virtual writing workshop, the instructor was pepping us up.
“You don’t need advanced degrees. You don’t need years of experience. You are an expert! Own it in your writing and pitches!”
In the late 2010s, this advice was everywhere. Find a niche topic (the kind that doesn’t have a formal discipline), dig deep via personal research, and use the word ‘expert’ in your branding a lot.
You ended up with a lot of blogs by people with odd, informal-sounding areas of expertise. It kept making me of this SNL sketch about a ‘flirting expert’:
The advice was not as terrible as I’m making it sound.
It signaled a commitment to growing in an area of knowledge, and was mostly directed at sincere and self-critical writers who tended to undersell themselves (at least, that’s how it seemed in my writing workshops).
But that’s not me.
Comparing yourself to yourself
There are lots of subjects I’m not an expert at, and I’m not saying that self-deprecatingly. It’s just true, when you have a lot of interests, that you are going to be some shades of amateur at many of them.
For many people, saying “Aww, shucks, I’m no expert” is about comparing themselves to others. The ones who are most bombastic about their confident opinions, or academics with advanced degrees.
Saying “Yes, you are! Own it!” was a way of reassuring people that they knew enough to be a popularizer of the field as long as they kept learning and growing.
For me, though, when I say I’m not an expert on, say, AI, I’m comparing me, the amateur follower of tech trends, with me, an expert in the fields I’m actually credentialed in.
I can’t write in the same confident tone about something I’ve spent years studying and something I’m just a…