You Are Your Own Expert

2009 July 21

“If you want to be an expert, there’s really only one thing you need to do – just get out there and start calling yourself one. Believe me, that’s all it takes.”

397080364_0b8225f5b6Photo by Joe Shlabotnik

Wise words from the girl sitting next to us at the coffee shop who couldn’t help overhearing our conversation and apologetically interjecting with the above.

How deliciously post-modern is the idea that simply declaring an yourself expert makes it so? That all it takes is the ability to front believably*  and some decent research skills (for when people ask you questions or assign you tasks that draw upon your expertise) and you’ve got the world in your hand?

I spent the bus ride home thinking  about the myth of the expert and whether or not the term had any inherent legitimacy.  What exactly makes an expert? Skill? Training? Experience? Natural ability? Who evaluates expertise and confers such a mantle upon you? Is it a PhD committee? A jury of your peers? Validation via Newsweek when they contact you for a quote? And why the hell aren’t we regularly calling these assumptions of expertise into question? Foucault**  is totally frowning at us from the great beyond, FYI.

But  say you do have the gumption to question the institutional and societal processes by which experts are both endowed with and exercise this power (be it prescriptively or coercively, passively or overtly), then what’s to stop you from taking it one step further? Like, maybe,  rejecting the technocratic status quo and parlaying your own interests, skills and experience into standing as a self-professed expert on the historical evolution of North American political cartoons, eco-friendly interior design or gender roles in twentieth century sci fi cinema? Granted branding yourself an expert  auto mechanic if  you can’t even change your own oil  or an expert neurosurgeon if you’re not, well, an expert neurosurgeon would be slightly problematic, but undervaluing your own capacity to gain, apply and leverage specialized (but not necessarily credentialed) knowledge seems downright myopic. Why should the technocrats have all the fun?

So in the interests of post-modern rabble rousing, I challenge you to figure out what you’re good at, figure out what you can convince others you’re good at and then exercise the temerity to appropriate the expert label for yourself. Hell, go ahead and order up business cards if you’re so inclined. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is and how few people would even consider questioning your expert street cred.

*Being able to front convincingly is key and is a recurring theme in all manner of the life advice I dole out.

**I really want to bust out with some power-knowledge/governmentality talk, but I’m trying to keep the nerdery to a generally accessible and acceptable level.

**Tell us what your deal is and we’ll even help you brainstorm wacky yet plausible career options based on it. F’reals and for free.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to StumbleUpon

Related GenMeh goodness:

Let's Talk About Sex, But In The Least Titillating Way Possible
List Served #7 Insomniac Ideation
Growing Up Grateful