August 24, 2017

It's okay to NOT be an expert

When I was little I always wanted to be the best at everything: the best third baseman, the smartest in the school, and of course, the biggest class clown. I wasn't satisfied that I got to dip my toe into all areas -- I needed to beat everyone else in those areas too.

As I grew older, I began to understand just how unsustainable that way of life truly was -- there were better third basemen, even in my small hometown. There were smarter kids, even in my tiny school. And of course, there were much funnier class clowns. At first, I found this disheartening. But with maturity, I came to see this as a gift that lightened my load. You see, I no longer had to be an expert on everything.

That realization was incredibly freeing to me. I could focus my efforts on being good at the things I truly wanted to be good at and could merely throw my support behind those who were, quite frankly, better than me in other areas.

I think a lot of people in our country could benefit from relearning this fundamental childhood lesson.

I cannot count the number of times I've heard someone start a sentence with, "Now, I'm not an expert but I think..."  Or worst yet, "I may not know everything but if you ask me, those experts don't either."
You see, for some reason, a large swatch of our population is under the impression that knowledge either isn't useful or isn't useful if it isn't their own. I find both of these ideas ignorant at best and dangerous at worst.

Knowledge should be celebrated. Now, I'm not talking about #alternativefacts knowledge. I'm talking about the type of knowledge that it takes years of painful study and careful observation to gain. And lest you think I'm only referring to "book smarts" I will clarify and specifically state that I appreciate all the forms that knowledge may take.

For example, a really good mechanic is going to have more knowledge about cars than I ever will. Now, this doesn't mean that I should just bury my head in the sand when it comes to cars. I shouldn't. But if an expert tells me its the radiator I would foolish to insist that it's really my transmission acting up based on a couple of Google searches. Likewise, a mechanic would be foolhardy to go toe to toe with me regarding the constitutionality of a new law armed only with the knowledge they obtained in a 90-clip from their local Fox affiliate.

Now, two mechanics can have a valid disagreement about what's wrong with my car and two lawyers can have a valid disagreement over the constitutionality of a law. And that's okay. But in those scenarios, it is the job of any non-expert listening in to ensure they are at least armed with enough knowledge to discern to who they should give their trust. For example, the certified mechanic with six years of experience and an excellent rating on Angie's List can likely be trusted a little more than your neighbor's uncle Joe who "has fixed a whole bunch of cars" and works out of his own garage. You don't have to personally be an expert in cars to know that maybe Joe shouldn't be your top source of information on the topic.

It seems to me though, that there are also people who simply abhor any knowledge that is not their own. I suppose I just do not understand that frame of mind. Realizing that I did not have to know everything or be the best at everything was so freeing for me. It takes so much time to become an expert -- it is literally impossible for anyone, even the smartest among us, to know and be it all. So, I do not see the harm in allowing others to be the experts in areas that you do not or cannot excel in.

Even worse, it breaks me heart to know there are parents who belittle knowledge simply because it comes from their child. Honest moment here, but I'm going to be really disappointed if my daughter isn't smarter than me. Like seriously. I want nothing more than for her to come home one day and talk circles around me about a topic I have little or no knowledge on. How amazing it is that I can help bring a human into this world that can do things for it that I simply cannot? Having a child be an expert in an area you know nothing about should be seen as a proud accomplishment for any parent -- not something to roll eyes about and use as an opportunity to talk about how youth just do not respect their elders like they used to.

A recent poll shows that growing numbers of Americans think that colleges are bad for our country. That's really hard for me to wrap my head around. As someone with a JD, married to someone with a PhD, I feel polls like that suggest that my family is not valuable to this country. But we are. In fact, we are just as valuable to this country as a plumbers, garbage-men (and women), crosswalk workers, retail workers, or stay at home moms. Everyone is different and everyone is capable of being an expert at something -- but none of us can do it all! We can however, work together because we all bring value to the table. And when we do that, we lift the nation towards prosperity.

But we cannot lift as a cohesive unit when we cannot acknowledge the gifts others have. Book smarts matter. Street smarts matter. The kind of wisdom that only comes with age matters. The type of innovation and fearlessness that only exists in youth matters too. It takes all kinds of smarts and all kinds of people to craft a successful society. So encourage your children to pursue their passions. And when they do -- when their knowledge outstrips your own -- enjoy it. Smile and give yourself a pat on the back for raising your very own expert.

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