Who’s the “Expert” in the room?
I recently lead a marketing seminar for a group of people who were relatively new to online marketing. We were covering the basics of blogging and social media that evening, and I had mentioned that blog posts needed to go beyond being “Dear Diary” manifestos, and into “demonstrating your expertise.”
- A man raised his hand and said, not disrespectfully but with a real earnestness , “The term ‘expert’ being thrown around the internet so much these days bothers me. I’m not an expert. I’m just starting out. There’s no way that I’m on par with people who have spent years doing this, who have poured all their time into studying this.”
I loved his point–mostly because sometimes, the casual tossing around of “expertise” bothers me, too.
Recently, I heard about a coach who had decided (after being financially unsuccessful at coaching people on other topics) that her new niche was to teach people how to be millionaires.
Knowing her personally, I cringed. This was not someone who was a millionaire, or who had ever been a millionaire. This was, in fact, someone who only a year earlier had sent messages out to everyone she knew, asking for help getting clients so that she could pay her bills.
We are welcome to politely disagree about this, of course, but I tend to think that if someone has never made that kind of coin, they shouldn’t posit themselves as having an expertise in helping someone else to make that kind of coin.
The same goes for any other topic, too. Coaches who are paralyzed by overwhelm say that they’ll teach people how not to be overwhelmed. Coaches who experience extreme anxiety about what other people think end up saying on their sales pages that they will help other people to stop worrying so much about what other people think. Coaches with relationships that are filled with drama, a few more choices that amp the drama, and a little extra helping of more drama, offer themselves up to help other couples.
The line between Expertise and Internet Shazam
The man who raised his hand to point out that it often takes years of study and experience to gain mastery over something was not being flip. As coaches, we do need some level of personal mastery over the things that we are to help others with.
When we have not personally internalized some level of mastery over a life lesson–not caring what other people think, forgiveness, handling overwhelm, making tough decisions, shifting a relationship, being creatively expressed–then we will only ever be helping our clients with “how to.”
Deep down, I think we all know this. I know how it feels when I “want” to forgive someone, versus when actually I do find my way to the choice, and it fully lands in my heart, mind, and body.
Think of the last time you were in that space. When you “want” to forgive someone, it’s all logic and pushing yourself to reason through things. When you actually do? There’s a complicated-yet-simple matrix of things at work. There’s a reconciliation of the past. There’s compassion, for yourself and for them. There’s logic and reason, finally clicking into place with understanding. There’s an expansiveness of love in your heart. You feel it within your body.
You can read books on forgiveness, talk to people about forgiveness, or even have other people pay you to give them advice on forgiveness.
However, nothing compares to actually forgiving, and it’s that experience that will teach you the most about guiding a client through that terrain. The same is true for anything else that clients need your help with.
Notice that I haven’t, so far, mentioned certification or diplomas or licenses. I take a bit of a controversial stance on this one.
First, I find lacking integrity in the sales pages of most large, conglomerate training institutions. I find it deplorable that they charge what they charge for a certification that is not even a real certification recognized by any state, not to mention the ways that they skirt the issue of how challenging it is to find clients and recoup the nearly $10k that a coach will spend on one of their training programs.
Second, my own coach-guru-man (as I affectionately call him), Matthew, never went to any formal training. He’s taught me more about life and living than the decade of therapists I saw before him.
Third, as I discovered when I went to graduate school to get my Marriage and Family Therapy license, attending a program that runs you through all the state requirements for license does not necessarily give you the skill-set needed to work with people.
- I’m not knocking therapy or therapists. I’m saying that diplomas and certification do not automatically = qualified to be effective with people.
Before making the decision to leave my MFT program, I talked with a lot of advanced students who were about to graduate. Without exception, they all bemoaned the fact that their classes on teaching “counseling” had not really taught them enough to give them confidence.
Furthermore, I realized with astonishment, choosing a career as a counselor did not necessarily translate to consciously practicing kindness. All semester long, I’d wondered about two women in particular who sort of whispered and darted glances at me, made comments that seemed like backhanded compliments or passive-aggressiveness–but with a smile, such that I wasn’t *quite* sure what the deal was.
I finally got a clue on the day when they were mad that I had sat in one of “their” seats in a classroom.
We had no assigned seating, of course. There was ample seating in the classroom to accommodate them.
In front of the entire classroom, these women in their late twenties were suddenly thirteen, again: “SOMEBODY just HAD to sit in my seat!” they said, setting down their things in other seats with a dramatic huff, while their other friends in the room snickered, at me.
Not one other person training to become a counselor spoke up to say anything. (I did, but that’s another story, for another time).
- I sat in a seat. For sitting in a seat, in my mid-thirties, in a professional licensing program for counselors…I was being bullied, middle-school style…by two women who were planning to become (of all things!) public school counselors!
I know that one example doesn’t make the rule, but I think you get my point: getting a degree will not guarantee that someone has a skill-set for being with and among people.
I don’t call people an expert based on a piece of paper or training or who they studied with. I don’t assign my approval or sanction to someone because of who they know or what they did in their internship or clinical hours.
Welcome to Expertise
It’s not your job as a coach to be perfect. I’m certainly not! That’s why I say “some level of” personal mastery. Humans are imperfect, and we always will be.
It’s your job to utilize a skillset that supports other people in getting the results that they want to get in their lives.
And that leads me to how I define “expertise.” Here are the two questions I’ll ask:
- Do you have enough mastery (not perfection, but skillfulness) in this area to be reasonably confident that you can lead clients to the results they want in a particular area?
- And furthermore, do you understand that expertise only labels a changeable state, one that needs constant refining and support in order to maintain that expert edge, and you’re willing to refine and educate yourself to maintain that edge?
Then, welcome: you are an expert.
I call myself an expert on courage and fear because I’ve lead so many clients to results.
Furthermore, I understand that the only way to maintain any expertise in doing what I do is by continuing to invest in education that helps me to expand not just my skillset as a coach, but my inner work and understanding. If I want to continue to help people to release fear and practice courage, then I need to continue to release my own fear and practice courage.
My vision for expertise is grounded in efficacy, in results, in helping people to get to where they want to go.
If you’re reading this and having some level of panic that you might not be “expert enough,” I would invite you to really sit down and spend some time assessing your strengths as a coach.
Maybe your expertise is not in a process, but in a way that you show up. Maybe you listen expertly, or put into words things that people have trouble articulating. Maybe your expertise is that you have something about you that helps other people to feel safe.
Some of you who sit down to assess your strengths might realize that you actually DO lead your clients through an actual process, one that you could claim, or that your clients always start out in the Land of X, and because they work with you they end up in the Land of Y.
Effective results. Real solutions for people who need them. That’s expertise, in my book.