If somebody has been doing something consistently for many years studying it, writing about it, and speaking about it, you might be inclined to call them experts or gurus. There’s nothing wrong with that if they’ve developed some level of expertise. However, a lot of people call themselves an expert or a guru when they’re only a year or two into their work. On today’s show, Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen share their sensitivity around the words “expert” and “guru,” and those who are faking it until they make it or as a strategy for SEO reasons.
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Cliche Advice: Are “Experts” And “Gurus” Faking It Until They Make It?
Jason, I think that we should finally tell our readers the truth.
We should tell them that we don’t know everything. I feel we should be honest with them that we’re not experts or gurus.
Have we deleted that from the copy on our website? Is it expert or guru-free?
I’m not sure that’s ever been on the website. I feel like it is. I hope that it is.
I hope that too. We will look stupid if we’re making this public announcement and people go to the website and they’re like, “It says guru right there.”
Wherever it is, it would be changed. It’s interesting. I’m sure that I’ve used the word expert before. That’s got to be in my bio somewhere. How about you?
I remember specifically when I was years ago reading Twitter hacks to get more followers. How to massage and alter the copy in your bio and they said whatever industry you’re in, if you add the word “guru”, there were these statistics that showed you would get a higher percentage of followers. I remember I said I was a wellness guru. Even now when I say it, I cringe at myself. If you could see my face, it’s like, “Wellness guru.” I throw up in my mouth a little bit at myself. I was so desperate for Twitter followers. It’s like, “I got to call myself a guru so people can validate my expertise and knowledge.” I’ve done it intentionally.The challenge is that there are no consistent metrics with how we measure or create these titles for people. Click To Tweet
That’s the theme of this episode. First of all, I feel like this should be a disclaimer for all of our episodes mainly because I feel the desire to not offend anybody. Although I know that’s not possible, I do want to say it’s never our intention to be judgmental to people that are calling themselves a guru or an expert. It’s not meant to shame them. I guess that’s probably a better word. I’m very sensitive to shame. While Jason and I are stating our current opinions and perspectives on things, they are always subject to change. The fact that Jason’s feelings about that word guru and expert have changed over time, your feelings as a reader may change over time. If you do currently use the word, expert or guru, in your biography, there’s nothing wrong with it.
We want to have an exploration of that. Please don’t take this as us making fun of you or shaming you. With that said, we want to get into the reasons that people may use those words and some opportunities to maybe use different vocabulary. Check in with yourself because maybe the word expert does apply to you. It’s possible that somebody can be an expert. It depends on how niched down you are. For example, since I use the word shame, I’d be willing to say that Brené Brown is pretty close to being an expert on shame. She’s been studying it, talking about it, teaching it, writing about it. She’s got a Netflix special. She is very well-versed in shame and she’s been doing this for many years.
I would say Brendon Burchard is another person that’s been doing something consistently for many years. Studying it, writing about it and speaking about it. They do develop some level of expertise. Part of my sensitivity around that word, and I believe Jason shares the sentiment, is a lot of people call themselves an expert when they’re only a year or two into their work. It’s like a fake it until you make it type of thing or perhaps as a strategy for SEO reasons. If you put the word expert or guru or whatever you want into your subheading or your biography, your description or your avatar or profile. If you put those words in, then maybe for SEO reasons, people will find you, A. B, perhaps somebody will read that description and think, “Jason Wrobel is a guru. I better listen to him. He knows what he’s talking about.” There’s the side to it of hoping that people will understand you or trust you. Those are big reasons people use these words. Coming back to the fake it until you make it a thing, if I call myself this word often enough, other people will see this word and they too will believe that I am this thing. We also have another one that we did a little while back about titles. We encourage you to read that one as well.
We don’t take ourselves that seriously. That’s part of it too, is sometimes when you hear someone calling themselves an expert, a guru or whatever it is, maybe they take themselves seriously. Maybe there’s a bit of narcissism involved there. That’s a judgment. We’re not thinking of any specific person here. I will say that while I may not be thinking of a specific narcissist or Jason. I wish we were doing a video behind the scenes of this because Jason’s making a lot of very amusing facial expressions that other people would appreciate. Another reason to sign up for the newsletter is that eventually, we will be doing more video content and recording most of our episodes in case you enjoy seeing facial expressions. To get back on track, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of anyone in specific, but as I was saying those words, I did think of somebody in specific who will remain nameless. Jason, are you thinking of the same person I’m thinking of?
I’m sure that I am.
Without naming names or giving any specific details, there is somebody that came up in conversation between the two of us. This person we’d found out had a podcast. Jason and I was curious about the podcast. We went on to the podcast platform to listen. Looking at the title of the podcast, which we didn’t even know and I thought this name was not quite what I expected, but it was the bio and in this podcast episode. It surprised me because I know this person personally. There seemed to be a disconnect between the person that I know personally and the person that they’re showing the world professionally. This bio, I don’t remember off the top of my head, maybe you do, Jason. It said something around the lines of being an expert in something. I thought, “This is my judgment of this person for better or for worse. I guess I didn’t think of them to be an expert in that subject area or I didn’t feel the word expert was quite appropriate for their level of knowledge and experience based on my definitions of expertise.” This is all relative. It’s relative to this person. It’s relative to the subject matter. It’s relative to their experience level and it’s relative to your definition of what it means to be an expert or a guru.
The challenge here is that there are no consistent metrics with how we measure or create these titles for people. In this instance, if expertise, guru-dom or an even higher level, which I have definitely a lot of opinions about mastery, there are no set metrics. Was it Malcolm Gladwell or was it someone else that had the 10,000 hours?
Which is over time been disproved or a lot of people have different opinions on it.
There are people that are prodigies at a specific state instrument or art form, so that doesn’t apply to them. The challenge here is what does a person, what criteria do any of us use whenever we call ourselves a veteran, an expert, a guru or a master? Are those things self-deigned or are those deigned upon us by others? Because one thing that comes to mind and I love this so much, I remember hearing a story about an interview with Luciano Pavarotti, the amazing opera singer before his death. They were asking him how he kept this level of output and performance. He was singing even well into his 70s, if I may recall. He said something about him having the same mental approach to his craft of singing and performing as he did when he was a teenager just learning how to be an opera singer. He knew that he wasn’t a master. He never claimed to be a master. He was saying that these were things and titles people lumped on him. In his mind, he was still this young teenage boy loving and learning that there was no end to learning of the craft of singing and performing. He didn’t consider himself a master.
That’s modest and maybe this is one of the reasons that word, expert, I don’t know why I keep coming back to that one in particular. I guess that’s because that’s a go-to word for people.
Master doesn’t get thrown around a lot, expert does.
Guru also I feel is rare, but that’s even a bigger trigger for me. I’m like, “Really? Guru?”
Master is a big trigger for me. I’m like, “Based on what? You’ve learned everything about it? You’re a master now?”
That’s the thing. This level of modesty and humbleness, when you say, “I’m not an expert and I’m not a master in this.”
Earnestly saying it or authentically being like, “I have still so much more to learn.”
We always will. That’s why it’s actually an interesting thing. Does anyone ever feel an expert? I bet you if you ask Brené Brown, there’s a good chance that she might not consider herself an expert because she knows that there’s so much more to learn about shame and vulnerability. Right now, I’m alternating between two of her books. Dare to Lead, which is good for anyone in leadership roles. I thought it was me, but it wasn’t. It is one of her good foundational books about shame and vulnerability. She often repeats herself throughout her books. It comes back to similar anecdotes and points. She said that somebody called her a role model and she thought, “Why am I the role model for shame or whatever? I still have so much to learn and so much further to go. I make mistakes too. I’m not perfect.” That’s a very genuine perspective because if you come to a place where you feel you’re an expert, it is from a place of ego, if it is a self-defined word. Unlike somebody else, as Jason mentioned, and we talked about in the titles one, if you’re choosing to use that word and you believe that you’re an expert, it’s almost as if you’re saying there’s no nothing else for you to learn.There is a level of modesty and humbleness when you say, 'I'm not an expert and I'm not a master in this.' Click To Tweet
You’re only at a place to teach. In my experience, we learn through teaching. We can learn even more about a subject area by teaching, especially when we’re interacting with people. That’s one of the challenges for me doing this show is that we don’t necessarily get as much interaction with people as maybe we would on YouTube. At some point, one of our goals, if we’re not doing this, when you’re reading this, but it is a plan of ours to start doing some of these lives so that we can interact with you. Because not only is there a way for us to connect with you on a subject matter, but we get to hear your perspectives on it, which gives us an opportunity to reflect on different ideas and opinions. That’s part of learning as well.
Sometimes when you position yourself as an expert, you almost close off the opportunities for people to question you. That’s also part of human nature. When you’re calling yourself an expert, if you are in a place of teaching, you put yourself in this role of leadership and knowledge and a lot of people will not question somebody who’s in the role of leadership. They don’t feel they’re as well-educated. They don’t feel they have the place to say something. You are in a way disconnecting yourself from other people and you’re blocking your opportunities to learn. Whereas maybe if you use a different word that has a similar meaning or you find another way to express what it is that you’re trying to say in your profile, in your bio or wherever it is that it is taking place, you give an opportunity to be more on a level with other people and in an opportunity to always be in a state of learning.
Even these people that seem to have mastered something, they don’t want to master it because then they lose that great feeling that comes along with constantly improving. My definition of guru, master or expert is that it’s somebody that’s learned everything they need to learn and they’ve covered all the ground and nothing’s changing anymore. They’re sharing everything, but they’re not improving upon it. I suppose that it might not be what people mean when they use that word expert. That’s going to be on a case by case basis. Some people might use the word expert but also realize that they’re always going to be learning something new and things are always changing. Who are we to judge their opinion on something like this? I suppose it’s a general person by person type of situation. It depends on who’s saying it and the context in which they’re saying it and then the energy that they have behind it and then trying to dig into why are they using that word.
I’ve got a weird sensation in my head. I had a thought and then I closed my eyes. I feel like I’m high. This is weird. I’m sorry to derail this because I have a thought.
I saw the physical change in your body when you were going through that.
It’s like when you first realize you got high. No, I don’t know what is going on. I did not have any CBD.
How do you know? I fed you a bunch of food.
Did you spike those?
No, but what if I had spiked them?
That would be a weird thing to spike. Have a marijuana bagel. Can you imagine that’s a thing? It’s a new business idea, Wellevatr.com/bakedbagels. These bagels are going to get you baked. I feel like I just got high. This is so weird. What is happening?
Are you able to participate in this conversation?
I am. I’m more curious about why this is happening. Anyway, I can’t say why. The thing I want to comment on that right is this whole idea of what these definitions mean to us intrinsically as individuals and when we deign ourselves with those titles. There’s a dangerous part of this process that I want to talk about that I have experienced myself. The dangerous part about let’s say when we have a year of experience under our belt or even a couple of years, whatever it is and we call ourselves expert, guru or master. Sometimes some people will actually find your profile or your page or your website and they’ll see it and they will actually ask you to do something or invite you to participate in something because they’ve seen you as such. If you have not built the knowledge, wisdom, experience and capacity to deliver on that, it is a very precarious situation. If people are like, “We want to hire you to speak at this thing,” and you’ve never spoken on a live stage before. That’s an example. I’ll give you an example from my life and why this is so poignant of why I see a tremendous issue with this fake it until you make it type of mentality.
I remember years ago, I was not yet even four years out of culinary school yet and I was running a catering business with my good friend, Michael. He lives in Philadelphia now. We had a catering business and I was doing projects on the side. I had a couple of colleagues of mine that I didn’t know that well. I didn’t even know him a year yet. He said, “We heard that you’re a master chef.” He used this terminology and all this. They’re like, “We’re having a wedding. Do you want to make our wedding cake?” I had never made a wedding cake in my life. This is not baking a batch of brownies. It’s a wedding cake. Whatever, through the grapevine, social media, YouTube, I had started like, “We found you and we want you to do this thing.”
I remember the feeling in my body of going like, “I don’t know how to do this wedding cake, but I’m going to say yes.” I remember saying yes and the terror of saying yes to something I had never done before. I essentially went and I put myself in bootcamp for three months. I went and worked with a master baker and a raw dessert chef to learn how to do this. This was not a baked cake, by the way. This was a raw, vegan, organic wedding cake. I’m saying this because I have said yes to things that I was not prepared for. There’s nothing wrong with this because I do this in life sometimes where I say yes to things I don’t know how to do and I’ll figure it out, but it’s not necessarily a fun or stress-free experience.
It’s almost you’re being called out on your title. It’s like, “You call yourself a master? We’re going to put you to the test.”
What I’m saying by that being dangerous is if you don’t trust yourself and you don’t have the courage to get called out and try and show up as your best, you’re going to look an ass. You are. I’m sorry, I’m going to be blunt. When we use these titles and we don’t have the wisdom, the courage, the confidence and the experience to back up what we are saying we are, you put yourself in a very precarious position. You need to be prepared when you use that terminology for life to present you with opportunities. As Whit said, to call your ass out and be like, “Okay, master raw food chef. Do you know how to build a four-tier wedding cake?” “Yes, of course I do. I’ve never done this in my life.” You need to be prepared for that. On this other thing and I’m on a roll here, so I want to keep going with this. I hope that people have the best of intentions when they try and do this because I genuinely believe that most people want to be helpful in some way in life. They do want to support their neighbor, their friends and all of these things. I see all too often in the health and wellness industries, people will go to a weekend seminar and they’ll pay $19.97 to go to Guru X’s life seminar.If you come to a place where you feel you're an expert, it is from a place of ego if it is a self-defined word. Click To Tweet
They come out and all of a sudden, they’re a coach. They come out and all of a sudden, they’re a thought leader. They come out, all of a sudden they’re a guru. I’m like, “Why don’t you telling me about this seminar you wanted to go to?” Now, you’re on the other side this three-day seminar or a week-long seminar and you’re like, “I’m a coach now and I’m a guru. I’m a thought leader.” There’s something inside of me, my intuition, that wins a little bit. I’m like, “A weekend seminar doesn’t make you an expert, sorry. A weekend seminar does not automatically make you a coach on whatever the subject is. A weekend seminar or a week-long seminar or retreat in Barbados does not make you anything.” I need to be the truth serum here. You can call yourself whatever you want, but legit on the other end of that, when I see that happening, I’m like, “Wisdom, experience and capacity. One weekend or one week somewhere is not going to do it.” As you said, I firmly believe that there is a level of transparency and authenticity and respect that needs to be infused into this.
It’s like paying your dues, in other words. I forget who is saying this. This is what happens when you listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks. I completely forget where I hear things sometimes, but somebody talking about how in most lines of work, there is a system of paying your dues and of working your way up the ladder. I experienced this when I was working in the film industry. I remember this happening when I was in film school as well. For those of you that don’t know this about my background, we talked about this before. I was talking about my challenging experiences working in the film industry and how there was a disillusion experience there. The one thing that I experienced was once I realized that I wanted to be a filmmaker, which was in my teens, I had to go through a number of steps to work my way up there.
First of all, I was a teenager. At that time, this is before Instagram and YouTube existed, the path to becoming a filmmaker was to study filmmaking for most people. There are some examples of successful filmmakers who didn’t go to film school. Quentin Tarantino is one of the classic examples. For the most part, when I was researching how to become a filmmaker, most people were saying, “You need to go to film school.” Yes, as a teenager, I had a lot of creative outlets. I was making a lot of videos. I learned how to edit, I learned how to film things. I was reading books. I was self-teaching myself a lot, but there was a huge difference between what I was doing as a teenager at my home in Massachusetts versus going to film school and being taught by film professionals. There’s the first age of me, which is the teenage Whitney, who is making things up as she goes along. These days, if I could become that teenager again right now and have Instagram and YouTube, it would be different.
In a way, I’m grateful that I didn’t have that because I found a lot of value in the traditional method of becoming a filmmaker. Because for me, my aim was to make Oscar-worthy films. To this day, even despite YouTube and Instagram, most films that win Academy Awards are going through the traditional route. There are some people that maybe win for short films or creative films. There are those outliers but the great majority of filmmaking that’s taken very seriously is are those people who have followed the traditional route to get there. There’s a certain level of A) Paying your dues. B) Working your way up. C) The years and years of building that craft. I think that all egos aside, I have a natural ability to make video content that is perhaps tied into my purpose. I’ve been experiencing that since I was very young.
Not having Instagram and YouTube, it was like, “I can make these videos, but who’s going to see them besides my friends?” Anybody that I showed the video to is limited to five or ten people that I knew in my life. I had the chance to screen some of my films at my high school in front of maybe 100 people. That was the extent to which I could show things. I go to film school and I had to pay to go to film school and I spent four years getting a film degree. Speaking of paying your dues, I’m studying, I’m being graded. I’m going on film sets and I remember the difference between my experience as a freshman and film school versus a senior in film school and all of the experience and the knowledge that I had built up over those four years. There was a huge difference in my abilities and the things that I learned and the people that I got to know. Whereas yes, had I had access to Instagram and YouTube as a teenager, maybe I could have shut up and had a viral video, but that didn’t mean that I’d worked on my craft, in other words.
Once I become a senior in college, I’m still now going into the “real world” in the workforce. Then it was me moving to Los Angeles and that’s a whole other world that I’m starting at the bottom of. It was figuring out how to get a job. All of the jobs that I applied for and got rejected because I was starting out in building my resume. Why did I not get those jobs? Because I didn’t have the experience to back them up. I didn’t deserve those positions and/or I didn’t have the right connections.
In the film industry, especially, it’s about who you know. It took me years to build those connections. It took me a lot of luck to get some of those connections. Had I continued on that path of filmmaking, I will probably just now in my life be getting to a point of great success. That success would have been determined by all of those years of learning, all of those years of experience and all of those years of building connections so I could get to the point where I was taken very seriously.
I probably still wouldn’t have the title of master or expert at that point. Because I bet you if you ask some of the greatest filmmakers right now or the most accomplished, first that comes to mind to Steven Spielberg, he’s constantly changing. He’s constantly working on things. His movies are evolving. There is so much that’s gone into his career. He’s been in his career for many years and I don’t even know if he would consider himself an expert or a master. Maybe he would. I think Steven Spielberg could have earned that title after many years and all of his experiences. The other point is that he still makes movies that we don’t think are great or movies that may not be worthy of an Academy Award.
It’s not you get to this place of mastery after all of those years of experience and learning and you’re have perfected your craft. You can still make mistakes. That’s my point. Like you were saying about Pavarotti, he probably still makes mistakes and he has off days. He might not sing something correctly because his vocal cords aren’t that way. Maybe he’s having an off day or maybe he made a decision and it didn’t work out in his best interest. The summary of my long-winded talk here is that the film industry and many industries work that way of paying your dues. There’s this long path. Sometimes Jason and I may get triggered by these words like expert, master, guru or thought leader, all of these.
If you’re going to think that you can become that after spending a weekend training, a year of self-teaching, working with one coach or whatever or even if you spent an entire year diving deep into it, you still may not have paid your dues yet in terms of your experiences. You could have all the knowledge in the world, but if you’re not applying it for a long enough period of time, then you’re still not fully paying those dues that many other people before you have paid. Part of the reason that it’s triggering is that anybody who has been paying their dues in the traditional sense feels like, “I’ve spent all of these years paying my dues and this person wants to take a shortcut. This person wants to use a word that I feel has taken me years earn and they want to use it by earning it over the course of six months or whatever.” In my opinion, that’s a very offensive thing. It’s not about the ego. It’s also offensive to all of those people.
Another great example, and I know Jason has something to say, but maybe you can speak on this too. We have a friend who is an amazing photographer and videographer and talk about paying his dues. This man is in his 50s. There’s also something to say about your age and in terms of your experience. He’s spent the great majority, if not his entire professional career, dedicated to mastering photography. Over the past few years, he also has been learning videography and he started off very humbly but dedicated. Because of all of those years with photography, he was able to skip a lot of the time it would’ve taken to learn the videography elements. Here he is a professional who values his work, has paid his dues and making his contacts, getting published and learning this craft. He was expressing to us some frustration he was feeling because of somebody else that he knows wanted to get advice from him in order to become a videographer.
Our friend, the photographer, was feeling threatened because he was thinking, “Why should I be sharing all of this knowledge I’ve learned over the years to give to somebody who may be trying to compete with me?” Whereas I have this perspective of there’s room for everybody, so there’s not a threat there. His feelings were based on that idea of I’ve paid my dues and I’ve spent so much time and energy developing my craft. Why should I give it to a way to somebody in a conversation? Does that person think that that one conversation that summarizes everything that I’ve learned is going to help them skip the line? Now, suddenly they feel they can compete with me in terms of getting clients. I can understand that sentiment. Even if there’s no actual competition, it’s more of an emotional frustration of thinking like, “I don’t want to share everything that I’ve spent so much working on. That’s cost me a lot. It’s cost me my time. It’s cost me years. It’s cost me money. It’s cost me mistakes. It costs a lot to pay your dues in a lot of ways and there’s a lot of people will feel protective over that. If somebody else can watch online training and try to distill all that information into a matter of hours, it can feel upsetting.
The thing that comes to my mind that I wanted to weigh in on here is something I was reading online. It may have been ElephantJournal.com. I don’t recall who the author was, but it was alluding to this idea that we live in a society that puts out a lot of content regarding hacks. Hacking your health, life, fitness and relationship. Everything’s a hack. The five top hacks for learning how to be a barbecue master. It’s like, “I make one great vegan burger and I’m a barbecue master.” Everything’s positioned that way though now if you think about it.
I went on MasterChef and now I have the title. You actually have to be a MasterChef in order to get on MasterChef. Maybe you won a contest and now because you’re the winner, you feel you’re a master.
Do you know what I’m going to do? Since I’ve won three culinary competitions in my life, I’m going to change my Instagram bio to say Master Vegan Chef. To be as obnoxious, Master Vegan Guru Chef, Master Vegan Guru Expert Chef at your service. The point with this hack economy is that yes, you can learn how to win a Tae Kwon Do tournament. You can learn how to hack poker and go to Vegas and win $50,000. You can learn how to dribble like Steph Curry. You can learn how to rip a guitar solo like Eddie Van Halen or whatever it is. This hack part of our culture though is confounding because people will get the result they want, but then they think they’ve actually mastered the thing. There’s the point of this article.
In this example, come out of a three-day weekend seminar and you call yourself a coach and you book yourself a $30,000 client. There’s this idea that like, “I’m the shit. I’m a great coach because I booked a $30,000 client.” The point is it’s fool’s gold. If that validates the belief in you that you are somehow now an expert or a guru at the profession you’ve chosen. Because that’s actually hacking it or luck was the article was saying. That the factor of learning strategy but not putting the time or years or experience into it is not the mastery of the thing. You’ve followed a system that happened to work. This hack economy has a lot to do with that. All we care about is the end result. We don’t care about getting good at the thing.Things are always changing. There’s always going to be something new to learn. Click To Tweet
Let’s not generalize and say we.
Many people who follow this mentality, whether it’s conscious or subconscious, there’s an aspect of it of, “I want the result,” whether that’s learning this drum solo or scaling this mountain or booking a $30,000 client. Because you’ve done it once and you did it successfully, it does not validate your expertise at the thing.
That’s such a great way to help people understand the difference. If somebody is feeling the desire to call themselves an expert to examine it. Are you an expert? If so, what makes you feel that way? What’s your definition of that? If you feel that’s the best word to use, then by all means, but is it that you’ve achieved a certain result? Maybe you want to call yourself a strategizer or something. Maybe there’s something else that’s a better description because this idea also of a fool’s gold is it’s not about you getting validated by having that stamp. A lot of authors are after the New York Times bestseller so that they can call themselves a bestselling author. It’s actually, in a way misleading.
There are so many factors that go into becoming a bestseller that it’s like, “What does that even mean?” It means that you sold a lot of books, but does that mean that your book is any better than a book that doesn’t have that title? Probably not. It’s become this coveted thing so that people can feel validated and they can put that on their resume or whatever. It’s also the difference with somebody that’s an Academy award-winning actor or anyone in the film industry to go back to that. Let’s say actors, you can win an Academy Award by doing your very first film. If you happen to be in a good film and you have a natural talent for acting and you’re working with a great team of people that make you look good, perhaps you could win and beat out somebody Meryl Streep who’s been doing it for most of her life.
Does that mean that you are a better actor than Meryl Streep or that equally as good? Maybe not. Maybe it’s a matter of luck or a matter of circumstance. We look for all of these different ways to define ourselves, but it’s getting into the nuances of what you have to offer and expressing to other people the benefit. That’s what this comes down to. If we go back, Jason and I, to the conversation we’ve been having around these words like expert, it triggers us on A) Personal level. It felt juicy for us to discuss. B) It’s something that not a lot of people talk about, at least that I’ve heard. C) It’s this idea that we’re all trying to figure out our way to fit in and feel accepted and get the results that we want, as Jason was saying.
If you can look at yourself and say, “Am I using this word to convince people that I’m worthy? Am I the right person for the job or is this going to convince somebody to approve of me? Is this going to convince somebody to work with me? Is this going to convince somebody to value me?” All of these different things that we’re seeking, then maybe if it’s that important to you, go ahead and use the word, but you also might be inadvertently turning people off. Jason and I are triggered by these words. When I see that word, I feel skeptical. If this is somebody that I’m not very familiar with, then I immediately want to see like, “What have they done to, in my opinion, earn that word expert?” In the case of our friend that we saw, I think that they did call themselves an expert. There are a few words in front of it. They were trying to claim themselves or described themselves as an expert in a specific topic.
I remember thinking, “In a way, this had the opposite effect on me.” Because I read that and think, “I don’t personally perceive this person as an expert in the subject matter.” The fact that they’re using that word is a turnoff. It makes me feel like, to Jason’s point, almost a fool’s gold thing. I almost lose a little bit of respect thinking, “If you’re willing to throw that word around, then it’s hard to trust you.” Because I would almost rather someone not call themselves an expert. That’s the type of person that I would want to work with because it feels more authentic and that authenticity is important to me. If I’m going to trust somebody, if I’m going to listen to their podcast, read their book, do coaching with them, I like somebody who’s confident and yet has a humbleness, a realness to them.
I love Brené Brown or Brendon Burchard. These are two people I respect. Not only have they earned the titles or even the idea of an expert because of the many years that they put into their crafts, but they also have the ability to be real, authentic and humble. They talk about their struggles and their failures in a way that feels very compelling, which makes them more down to earth. That combination to me is incredibly powerful. Based on all of those factors, it would be okay for them to use the word expert. They’ve earned it, in my opinion.
This reminds me of something I heard a long time ago. This is not my complete declaration that this is true, but the paraphrasing it was the three most spiritually enlightened words or self-aware words, if you will are, “I don’t know.” There’s such a predisposition and emphasis in our society in general, especially in terms of our professions. “I know. I’ve been studying this. I’ve been studying the migration patterns of wombats and jungle bananas for 25 years. I know about wombats and bananas and their proclivities. Thank you.” There’s a thing of people are like, “I’ve been doing this for this amount of time and I know this person. I worked on this film and I went on this,” insert whatever it is. I know, which that egotism prevents us in many cases from learning new perspectives, absorbing new information, having new experiences. That’s why sometimes I don’t know is the most honest, authentic, spiritually enlightened phrase, “I know things, but I also acknowledge I don’t know a thing,” at the same time.
Also saying, “I know,” especially when you’re using that example, Jason, I think about the times I’ve encountered people who have said those things. They get into that place of ego. First of all, I don’t like the way I feel when somebody says that to me. For me, I feel small when someone thinks that they know better than me. Even talking about it, I’m instantly in that place. It’s almost a bit of a shaming experience or feeling. It’s very diminishing. It takes me out away from connecting with them because I don’t any longer feel I’m worthy to connect or I can speak on the same level. That might be a bit more of my personal experience around a lot of those feelings of authority when somebody is in a place where they know better than you or they feel higher and superior. The superiority element of it too. It’s causing both of us to feel very physically uncomfortable.
Here’s the thing is that it shuts off your connection is my point. When you think that you know better or a might not even be like I know better than you. It might not be I’m measuring your knowledge type of a statement. Perhaps it’s like Jason was saying, you’re shutting down to being wrong. Not only is that interrupting the connection, but my perspective on life is it’s rare that I know everything. If I were to claim that I know everything, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a scenario where my ego is has gotten the best of me and I’ve said, “I know,” and then someone corrects you and you find out that they’re right and you’re wrong. That sets you up for a very uncomfortable experience. That’s another reason I’m very humble in the sense that I’m aware that I may be corrected. It’s not even fully a lack of confidence. It’s more thinking I am aware that I could not have all the information here.
This is all a completely relative assessment. Here’s why. I’m so fascinated to look because I’m so passionate about wellness, food, nutrition and healing as you are, Whitney. Probably you are a wonderful listener. To look at science books, nutrition books, cookbooks or holistic nutrition books from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and you compare that with the research that is coming out now, which thanks to the internet, we can access pretty damn near every research study that’s out there. The papers are there. Any knowledge base for the most part as we continue to grow, evolve, study, research and know more, that’s a moving target. You could look at the studies that came out in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s or the knowledge base in pretty much any field then. The experts then had no knowledge for the most part of what we know now many years later.
I’m sure that in 2050, 2100 and beyond, if we survive that long, fingers crossed, the people that will be considered experts then, their knowledge base will be so much wider and broader and have more depth than the people who are “experts” now. If we look at how knowledge and self-awareness and wisdom and technology work intrinsically, there’s no end of this. There’s not an endpoint of, “I know everything about this subject.” That’s going against the very nature of existence. Knowing that this is a constantly unfolding process of awareness, knowledge, experience, there’s no end of this. There’s no endpoint. There’s no end game here.
That’s the interesting thing is that does mean that there’s no such thing as an expert or a master or is that a new definition of what it means to be an expert or a master? It’s almost like you’re an expert now. It’s similar to any measurement of us compared to somebody else, which is basically what those words are saying. It’s a comparison. Compared to you, I’m an expert in this. As I said earlier, that immediately shifts your relationship with somebody because it puts you in a position of power over them in a way. As human beings, we have a lot of psychological desire to be in places of hierarchy. It’s a natural human drive or a very historical drive. We’re built to see life through this lens of hierarchies and all of that. Maybe that’s why we use those words because we want to seem we’re important and we’re valuable and all of that.
Does that lead to should anybody be using those words? Is there a textbook definition for an expert? Yes, but it’s a very vague definition because it all depends on what type of expertise you have. I suppose it’s like anything else. As we said at the very beginning, the aim here is not to tell you not to use that word expert, it’s to be very aware of why you’re using it and what makes you feel you’re qualified.” It’s also helpful to think, “Would somebody else truly define me as an expert if I never used that word myself?” If I didn’t introduce myself or put in my bio, “I’m an expert at whatever.” I don’t consider myself an expert but let’s say, “I’m an expert at eco-vegan living.” If I didn’t include that word, but somebody else called me an expert and then another person did. Maybe I got a group of people that naturally were calling me an expert without having somebody else tell them that I was.
Maybe I am an expert because a lot of people are referring to me as one and I never encouraged them to. It’s going through this thought process with how you’re defining yourself and why. The other thing I wanted to drop in here, to go back to Jason’s point about the dangers of saying, “I know,” versus the positive elements of saying, “I don’t know,” it reminds me of one of the best things that I learned while working at the Apple store. For those of you that don’t know about my background, I love technology, especially a very innovative forward-thinking company. I’m a huge fan of Apple and Tesla, for example. I worked at the Apple store for six and a half years and it was one of the best work experiences, if not the best overall work experience outside of my own career now, meaning being self-employed and entrepreneurial.All we care about is the end result; we don't actually care about getting good at the thing. This hack economy has a lot to do with that. Click To Tweet
That experience with Apple was so huge for me, not only because of the culture of Apple, but the way that they taught me how to interact with people, the customer service training at Apple, at least during the times that I was there in 2005 through 2012. It had such a great impact on me. One of the things that I constantly think about, one of the things that come up in my mind when about my experience with Apple is that they trained us. When somebody to us with a question and we didn’t know the answer, we never try to come up with it and make it seem we knew. Apple didn’t want us all to be experts. They didn’t expect us to be experts.
A lot of people assume that if you work at the Apple store, you must be an expert in Apple products. Maybe to some extent we were because we are surrounded by them. Let me tell you, Apple technology is constantly changing. That’s why I love it so much. It’s always evolving. Their software and their hardware changes at least once a year. You had to be on your toes in terms of knowing these products and the software that went along with it. It was intimidating for me at times because even though I loved it and I knew it and I basically lived on Apple and still do, there’s still so much I didn’t know.
I started teaching at Apple in front of big groups of people. They had a theater at two of the stores that I worked at, and I would have to get up and give presentations. Talk about pressure, to know and be an expert in all of these things. I had to take tests and I had to practice, but it was a very common experience for somebody to ask me a question that stumped me. In those moments, I had the opportunity to try to make up an answer and sound I knew what I was talking about because I didn’t want my ego to be thrown off. The way that we are trained by the management as part of Apple’s culture, again, at least at that time, I don’t know if it’s changed since, but at the time that I was working there, they wanted us to say, “I don’t know, let’s find out.”
It was such a pivotal change for me intellectually when I learned that phrase. It was being humble enough to admit that you didn’t know. It was also taking proactive measures to go find an answer. Versus you could either say, “I know,” and make up some answer, which would not benefit the person you’re talking to, by the way. That was part of Apple’s ideology was why would you give a false piece of information to somebody? That could be very detrimental and because of a huge customer service issue if you were wrong.
Another thing that I see whenever I go to another retail environment and I get a chance to observe the customer service that you get, it’s similar to, Jason, when we went to that bookshop and you were complimenting the woman at the bookshop over her customer service. She was very kind and the person at another bookshop was not kind to you. You had a comparative experience. Part of what I see as poor customer service is when somebody says, “I don’t know, period.” They look at you blankly. It’s not an, “I don’t know, let’s find out,” which is how the Apple operated or still operates. It’s very common to get one of the other two responses, “I know.”
They give you an answer and you later find out they didn’t know that wasn’t the truth, which is very frustrating as a customer. Even worse is when somebody in a customer service position says, “I don’t know,” and they don’t try to fix it. They don’t try to find out. They don’t try to help you. It’s the end. It swings the other way around. The reason they bring up that phrase of, “I don’t know, let’s find out,” what a magical thing to say to somebody when you’re in any learning opportunity or coaching or a place where someone’s looking up to you. You can show them that you’re a real human being that doesn’t have all the answers, but you’re also willing to find out along with them, which gives you a great opportunity for connection.
The one caveat to this response could be if someone says, “Do you love me?” “I don’t know. Let’s find out.” That’s also honest. It’s like a Beatle song. “You’re asking me, will my love grow? I don’t know.” He was being honest. I don’t know. I may, I may not. That’s a more honest answer than like, “Yes, babe. I do. To the moon and back.” You’re like, “I don’t know. Maybe.”
That comes back to this idea that we were saying earlier. All jokes aside, when you call yourself an expert or a master, it’s very definitive. That’s it. It’s never going to change. At least that’s the way that I perceive it. When you don’t use those labels, you’re opening yourself up. I guess the question then becomes, what do you say instead of that? That comes down to what your goals are in conveying information about yourself. Do you even need to replace the word expert with something else or could you simply talk about how you’re helping somebody? I like it when a biography, whether it’s long or short, is using action-oriented words about what they’re doing for you. Because if you’re going to read somebody’s profile, you’re probably wondering, “How can this person help me?” When you say they’re an expert, maybe the aim is like, “I can help you because I know everything.” That’s almost what that’s implying. Instead you can say, “I help people do blank,” or however you want to phrase that, I don’t know. It depends on the context of all of this.
I help people figure out that they’re experts.
That’s what we’re going to change our bios to.
We are not experts. We are experts in not being experts.
I actually like that.
I do too. The thing that this distills to me is if people are being honest. I see this a lot in new parents and we’re in the age range where a lot of our friends have been having kids. To me, the ones that are honest about it, that I feel they’re being honest, I’ve asked like, “What did it feel to be a parent for the first time? How’s it going?” Literally, it’s some version of like, “I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m literally making it up as I go. All the books and all the advice and everything my parents told us honestly doesn’t apply.” Because you’re in these situations for the first time in real-time, viscerally experiencing them. The books and the advice don’t necessarily apply because you often have to make things up on the fly because of the circumstances and the personalities and the emotions and having a new life there.
I think what I want to say in summary as we roll this out is there’s a massive difference between thinking you know something theoretically because you heard it or learned it or observed it and living it. There’s a massive gap. To me, that is the biggest concern. I won’t call it an issue or an annoyance. It’s the biggest concern I have when people do use these titles of expert, guru or master, my question as always is have you lived the thing? Have you experienced it? Have you tasted it? Have you bled for it? Have you cried for it? Have you won? Have you lost? Have you experienced the myriad dimensions of knowing and experiencing the thing? It’s not because you read it or you heard it or you saw it in a YouTube video. That doesn’t make you an expert in crap.
Even if you get a certification?
No, I’m sorry. A paper doesn’t mean anything.
You can get certified as a professional chef. In fact, I will give a little plug for our friends over at Rouxbe. It’s an authentic example. Rouxbe is this fantastic online training where you can become a professional chef. It’s called Rouxbe Plant-based Professional Course. They have other courses besides being plant-based, but we advocate for the plant-based course and you get a certification at the end of their training. You could go through Rouxbe and know all that information, but does that mean that you’re a master chef by the end of it? No, because you have to go and become a chef and you have to get the experience of being a chef. There’s a long road. It’s very similar to what I was sharing about my film school experience. I went through four years of film school. I got a degree in Film Production and I also spent years before that making videos on my own and teaching myself and reading. By the end of college, I had 6 to 8 years of knowledge.
To Jason’s point, my career had not even started until years after college because I had to spend those next few years getting experience, building those contacts and paying all those different types of dues. There are phenomenal online trainings that you can do that will give you certifications. You can do it for nutrition. Pretty much anything you can imagine, you can be certified in online. Until you put it into practice for many years and you get those experiences Jason was describing of having some experiences only firsthand time and time again in all these different scenarios, in our opinion it does not qualify you as a master or an expert in something. I’m also willing to be wrong because I’m not an expert on the subject matter. I’m not an expert at being an expert.
This is by no means the gospel truth. This is our perspective and opinion in the desire to encourage more authenticity, transparency and vulnerability, not because of those are buzzwords but for real like, “I got out of the seminar, I know a little bit more about X.” Being honest and self-aware of how we are showing up and presenting ourselves in the world. If that is congruent with ourselves mentally and spiritually for real. Just being the real, people showing up and being real for all of us. That’s a constant process. We’re learning. Everybody’s learning. How do I be more real? How do I show up authentically?
It’s not having this need to feel superior to others.
Get validation or chase validation or fall into the comparison trap.
We all want to learn something from each other. We can be on the same level and yet still learn from one another. There is no need to be better than somebody or more experienced than somebody in order to prove your value.
It’s true. The more humility we can have on this planet and that doesn’t mean thinking down on ourselves. Knowing to the bone who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing and not needing to say it or hear it from anyone else, that is a very peaceful and aligned place to be. It’s when you know to show up into your craft, you know what you’re capable of. You know why you’re doing it. You’re very connected to the intention in the passion of it. You don’t need to hear someone go, “Jason, my friend, the master chef.” When people have said that to me, I cringe. I cringe because I’m like, “I don’t know a damn thing about cooking. I know a few things, but I don’t know a damn thing.” It’s interesting. We don’t need that and we don’t even want it.
It’s also funny too when somebody feels the need to give you that title because it’s they’re trying to prove that their contact is worthy.
They’re trying to validate themselves by knowing you. “My friend, he was the first vegan chef in history to host a primetime show. He also still has his foreskin. It looks like Snuffleupagus.” That’s not appropriate at a dinner party and I know what you’re trying to do right now. I see it.
That is something that we didn’t touch upon is that some people use that word to describe others in order to validate themselves.
It’s validation by association.
It’s like namedroppers. It’s like, “My friend went and directed this movie.”
We need to save that for another one because that is a Pandora’s Box of name dropping. When I say droppings, it’s a euphemism for poo-poo. On that note, we’ll say we will save crap-talking namedroppers for another episode.
I hope other people like the things that we laugh at. It doesn’t matter if they do or not.
They can go straight to hell.
I want to know if other people laugh at things. When you do write the glowing review of this for iTunes, which we would greatly appreciate, we would love to hear specifics like are we making you laugh? Are we getting you to think? Are we inspiring you to have a new perspective? Are you in agreement with us? Are you in opposition to us, but do you it anyways? We’d love to hear from you. You can also send us social media messages. We’re at Wellevatr.com.
- Bridges and Walls: What Titles and Labels Do To Us – Previous episode
- Brené Brown
- Brendon Burchard
- Dare to Lead
- Rouxbe Online Cooking School
- iTunes – This Might Get Uncomfortable
- Be Your Own Damn Guru – Wellevatr Blog
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