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Become An Expert In Everything
On learning to love learning and growth mindset.
How many people do you know who consider themselves “experts?”
Answer: Probably too many.
My brother is finishing his Ph.D. in Neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal. He’s dedicated essentially a decade of his life to becoming an expert in the human brain. This reminded me of an overshared infographic about the depth of knowledge one acquires in advanced degrees.
Those last two boxes hit hard: The new lens with which he’s viewing the world and a not-so-subtle reminder to zoom out (and keep pushing).
Since I was a kid, I loved learning about new things. I was an avid follower of Shark Week and other Discovery Channel shows, and I amassed a zoo worth of exotic animals that included gerbils, geckos, snakes, and a chinchilla named Zoe. Later in life, I became the family YouTube handyman, learning how to fix everything from kids toys to pool equipment to my wife’s clothing steamer. Lately, cooking and wine have become passions, resulting in lots of bookmarked recipes and dirty dishes, but also some delicious family dinners.
I love knowing a little, about a lot. But I’m not an expert in anything.
Comparatively, my brother is all-consumed by his area of expertise. He spends nights and weekends doing research, comparing results, and preparing for his thesis defense. By the time he’s finished, he’ll be a bonafide expert in neuroscience. It will likely cost him the opportunity to learn about a lot of things during that time, but his future and his career will revolve around this highly developed knowledge base.
Is it better to hyperspecialize in a single area or develop a more generalist approach to the world? And how specialized does your knowledge have to be to dub yourself an “expert.”
For me, the answer is about growth. An expert is a life-long learner in a narrow subject area, who evolves their understanding of that topic, and contributes to it with their own thoughts and opinions. Experts have the ultimate humility about their area of expertise because they understand how much is misunderstood.
Seek out experts. If your best friend loves to play golf, spend an afternoon learning how to drive and putt. Take a cooking lesson from your mom so you can continue sharing her favorite recipes with your kids. Attend a workshop on marketing to help drive more customers to your business. Don’t be shy about reaching for the sky - many successful experts crave to share their experience with the next generation.
Share your expertise. Are you an architect? Give your design-challenged friends some advice on their new renovation project. You’ll make their home more beautiful. Are you a great writer? Help tweak a resume for a struggling job seeker and do a practice interview with them. They’ll be immeasurabley grateful when they land the job. Sharing your expertise in a constructive way can have a profound impact on someone - do it liberally and with compassion.
Keep learning. If you know me, you know my love affair with Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. She explores two different paradigms: growth mindset and fixed mindset. We all have a little bit of both, but there’s incredible power in learning to harness a growth mindset. Learn to listen to yourself and identify when you're exhibiting either mindset. Try new things, make mistakes, and don’t be afraid to accept constructive feedback from a trusted source. Always remember to set realistic goals and be kind to yourself as you undertake something new.