Is anyone an expert? Do we use that term too liberally?

expert christian lautenschleger

“[An expert is] having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience.”

-Expert definition, courtesy of Webster.

expert christian lautenschleger

Who is an expert? Is anyone an expert? The more we learn about something, the more we learn we don’t know. Everything is a lifelong lesson, we can take crash courses and become obsessed with voracious energy, but at what point do we become an expert? Or do we ever really reach that status.

The media loves to label people as “experts”, probably because they need to call them something, the lazy way out. An expert generally is someone with deep, experienced knowledge in a certain area. Experts are seen as authority figures because of the time it takes to acquire specialized knowledge and skill. It may takes years, – even decades – of experience with a bevy of continued education. It’s a rather high bar.

Many people love to learn new things, just for the sake of learning. The Dunning-Kruger Effect states low-ability people who just learned about something want to demonstrate themselves much more knowledgeable than what they are. This may unjustifiably lead people to taking the term “expert”. Essentially, it’s newbs who think they know more than people with twenty years of experience and education. (The opposite would be a highly-skilled person underestimating their ability.)

However, what about the person who’s studied and well-experienced in a particular craft or trade? It doesn’t matter if you’re a fashion photographer, computer designer, or bionuclear engineer. The deeper we dig, learn, and experience something the more we learn that we don’t know as much as what we thought. It’s great to have confidence, but at what point in a journey do we become “experts”? Being an expert should have meaning. More than likely, few people who call themselves experts actually are. It should mean extensive, dedicated learning by doing and theorizing a particular craft, trade, or profession. On one hand it may be “I know it when I see it”, but the bar for being an expert should set them apart from the rest.

If you don’t know what an f-stop is, you’re not an expert at photography. If you don’t know what a cover-2 blitz is, you’re not a football expert. And don’t trust a running coach who doesn’t know what a racing flats are. Experts have to know the esoteric nuances, that’s why they’re the “experts”.

Because the paradigm of the more we learn the less we seemingly know, do we ever cross the expert threshold? Does it eventually become, “good enough”? Does someone have to label us (some things that we can’t label ourselves)? Is it based off reputation, education, or career? Is it a mindset of continued education — I’m an expert, therefore I must learn everything I can in order to keep my standing?

Maybe it’s best that we never view ourselves as experts because if we do, we may feel that we “have arrived”. If we continue to stay hungry we may never be satisfied and want to achieve something we already have, time and time again. Maybe that’s what life is, always proving ourselves and never acting life we’ve arrived?