When I was a very young man, graduating high school, I thought I was an expert on some things. At least, I spoke like I was an expert on some things.
Then I went to college, and I realized I didn’t know so many things. It took a while. And there were plenty of other students were who were struggling with the same realization. Many students, I don’t think ever made the realization. They never stopped believing they were experts about something.
I left college and with a degree under my belt, I felt like I had the right to consider myself a real expert. I was ready to take on the world and the world would benefit from my expertise.
I think you can see where this is going already, can’t you?
You know what we have a lot of today? What we have a real surplus of?
Let me explain.
The Humble Beginnings of An Expert In Training
I’ve been a millennial long enough that I was a millennial before anyone even called us “millennials.” I was born on the very forefront of the generation, in 1983. I graduated high school in 2001, the first real class of the new millennium. So I kind of have one foot in both Gen Y and the other in the Millennial crowd. As far as Millennials go, I’m a senior citizen.
I was a Millennial before Millennials even discovered blogging, the platform on which to share all of our expertise.
After I graduated college, I went on to get my Masters degree. “Now,” I thought, “I am a real expert. Now people will have to listen to me!” And it wasn’t until I was finished with grad school that everyone really started blogging. “Perfect timing,” I thought.
A Generation of Self-Appointed Experts
My ambitions were great as a twenty-something. Maybe that’s a generational thing. Maybe it’s just intrinsic to twenty-somethings. I thought about prominent people in leadership and thought to myself “I could do that.” I nurtured these brazen ambitions and was frustrated when they did not come to fruition. After all, I was a self-appointed “expert.”
And it is self-appointed experts that we have a surplus of. Perhaps more than any previous generation, my generation loves to be thought of as authorities on even the most mundane subjects. We believe that we should be listened to, that our opinions should be weighed. We don’t just open businesses, we call ourselves entrepreneurs. We don’t just make lists or stock shelves, we curate (which is just a fancy, completely overused word that has become a caricature of itself.) We literally invent new meanings for words to make ourselves look more impressive than we are.
To the point, I enjoy going to a small coffee shop in a very hipster-y part of town, the kind where they make pour-over coffees that take ten minutes. They sell little items too from other hipster people. One item that caught my eye was some candy from Portland. On the bottom of the box, it didn’t say “made in Portland,” or “manufactured in Portland.” It said, “maneuvered in Portland.” What does it mean to maneuver candy? I don’t know, but it sounds fancy, and that’s the point. They are such experts at candy, that they require a fancy word that doesn’t make sense.
When I see my generation making up new words, I know that those are my kindred spirits, trying so hard to look like experts. When I see someone from my generation, married for half a decade, writing a blog post about how to keep your marriage fun and exciting, I know that is a kindred spirit, trying to exude expertise where there really isn’t much. It’s a good thing that real senior citizens don’t have time to write blogs or magazine articles, or they’d put the rest of us under.
Experts Grow Up And Become Students
As I have moved from my twenties to my thirties, I no longer look at positions of power or leadership and think “I could do that.” Instead I look at those roles and think “I’m much too green to do that.” I’d rather wait another decade and see what happens.
I try to not exude so much expertise as I used to, and try to exude a little bit more learning and process in how I talk. I try to not talk and write about things I don’t really know about.
And I’ve stopped trying to skip ahead through all of the years and learning and process that it took everyone else to get to the top of their games. There has been much written about my generation, some of it deservedly. But if there is a fatal flaw in our generation, it is that we want to skip ahead and we become frustrated when the world doesn’t let us. We want to write memoirs at age thirty. We want to lead big churches and companies when we have so little life experience to actually draw on.
I’ve discovered the real mark of expertise is not being at the top. It’s growth, it’s process, it’s learning.
It’s putting off the big promotion another year or two or ten so that we can become real experts.
We don’t need more experts. Experts seem to always be surprised, taken off guard, or just wrong.
We need instead, more students.