The confidence of non-expertise

I stopped worrying about being an impostor when I started writing about what I was learning. Confession that gave me confidence.

It’s easy – or at least it has become easy – to write: Here is something I have learned a little more about. I didn’t know it before. I haven’t mastered it yet. You might know it already. Then again, you might also find this useful. Anyway, here it is. Would love to hear from you.

Writing like this throughout the years, I discovered that people didn’t mind if I didn’t know something. People were glad I wasn’t promoting myself as some kind of expert. Even without people’s validation, I liked myself as a learner, and I couldn’t care less about being an expert.

I still sometimes get the momentary “Do I really know enough about this to talk about it?” when planning a presentation or starting a project. But most of my presentations and projects grow out of my blog posts, so (a) whoever invited me knows how I think already, and (b) I don’t care about having all the answers, just about asking good questions. And writing things down, and sharing the ideas with others.

When you’re not The Expert, you’re not worried about being caught out or embarrassed by something you don’t know. You don’t get ossified into the few patterns you’d become good at. You can keep learning. You can make mistakes. Your ego isn’t on the line. Your self-confidence isn’t, either.

It’s easier this way, and it’s more fun too.

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  • http://turtle-island.livejournal.com Peter

    Very wise advise! That’s a common stumbling block for me; I tell myself “I don’t know enough to complete this blog post, so I shouldn’t even start.” When I’m constantly learning new things, will I ever know “enough” to write authoritatively on it? No!
    But I notice that once I start writing, and feel the words flow, that initial confidence begets more confidence to continue.

  • James

    This is a great post, Sacha. I only wish everybody thought this way! You’re also surrounded by good people, it seems :)

    Humans have such a weird relationship with expert-ness — certainty tends to inspire confidence, and expert-ness tends to revolve around pursuit of certainty (for both the expert and for his/her audience/customers/followers/etc) first and foremost, while competency may or may not come along for the ride. Confidence is probably correlated with competency in simple tasks — such as the kind our cave man ancestors dealt with — but with complex systems and unknowable or probabilistic outcomes, I wonder if the correlation becomes negative (see first link).

    Another great thing about non-expertise is that it’s so easy to change your opinion when reality proves your old one wrong. How often to experts do that? Really, in politics, academia, and medicine, the vehicle of chance tends to be the birth of a new generation :)

    Great post.

    http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/health/011800hth-behavior-incompetents.html

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/03/111003fa_fact_gawande?currentPage=all

    (the last line is apropos)

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  • Priya D

    You’re really really awesome…..