There comes a point in every coaching relationship where the work we’ve been doing pays off, and my client gets really, really excited. “Yes! That’s it! That’s what I want to do! That’s how I want to help humanity! That’s the thing I was destined to build and be a part of!”
Even though I know it’s coming, I still get excited when I see the lightbulbs appearing over their heads. There’s a moment of pure elation when it seems like everything is clicking into place, and then…my ecstatic clients get very, very quiet.
Their triumph is quickly replaced with silence, and even though I know what’s going on, I ask anyway, “What’s coming up for you right now?”
The specific words vary, but the answer is always the same: “Well, everything seems so clear now, but…how do I actually DO this? I have no clue what I’m doing. Will it even work? I’m not actually qualified…Only experts do things like that. Who am I to do this?”
I had this same exact inner monologue for years. 6 completely soul-sucking years, to be exact, before I finally realized what was really going on. Because-you see-this is the point at which most people stop. Many of us (myself included), claim that we have no clue what to do with our lives, but in reality, we actually have an inkling of what we really want to do as our life’s work….we just don’t trust that it will work, and we certainly don’t think we are the ones qualified to do it. So we just shove down that deep soul longing, go back to our boring lives, and leave the big stuff to the experts.
For years, I got glimpses of what my life could be, the impact I could make, the beautiful stories I could tell…and then I would immediately race back to the safety of what my family wanted, what would make the most money, what was socially acceptable. You name it, I had all the excuses to avoid acting on that deep soul yearning.
My most powerful excuse made so much sense on the surface: “You aren’t qualified to do that, so you might as well leave it to the experts.” But after wrestling with this fear for years, I learned the truth:
You may not automatically know how to do the thing you want to do, and you may not be technically qualified to do it. That's okay because the world needs it anyway.
Waiting around till you feel like a confident, qualified expert is pointless because “expertise” is often just perfectionism and self-doubt in disguise. You gotta get real about this if you want to get results.
Let’s get real about expertise
Let’s metaphorically push the Google Earth button, zoom out, and really consider what expertise is. An expert is someone who cares deeply about something, so she engages in that thing frequently, practices it, and learns things about it. No one is born an expert on anything. While someone else may have expertise in a certain skill, that skill was learned. It doesn’t make them any better than you because they have acquired a skill that you haven’t. If it’s truly that important, you can just acquire that skill, too.
We are not conditioned this way
I remember having dinner with some friends the week I started coach training. I was animated, gleefully drinking wine and explaining my baby business to them, when one friend asked, “Are you sure you’re qualified to do this? I mean…who wants a life coach who’s 20-something? How do you have enough expertise to help someone out when you're still learning?”
I sat with this for a while and realized that age doesn't necessarily equal expertise. If expertise is simply deeply caring about something and being committed to practicing it and learning it, then I was covered. I had been a devoted student of the human condition for decades, and I didn’t need to know every facet of the human condition in order to feel confident about healing it.
In that moment, I made the decision to source my confidence from my commitment, not my acquired skill set. I chose to lead with my mission, not my resume.
After I made this choice, I started seeing the epidemic of “not qualified” popping up everywhere, and it made sense. The general understanding in our society is that the more expertise you have, the better you become at something, and the better become at something, the more someone will pay you to do it.
While aspects of this societal understanding may be true, other parts of it may be false, and if this one concept is what’s keeping you away from the thing you were put on the planet to do, it’s time to trade it for a more empowering view of the world.
Of course you feel like you’re not ready because you don’t have a laundry list of qualifications! We are programmed to believe that the person with the most qualifications gets the most success, but when you hang back because you’re lacking expertise, how much of you is actually hanging back in order to play the good girl?
How much of your inaction is due to the fact that you are missing qualifications, and how much of your inaction is due to perfectionism?
How much of your fear is just an excuse?
HOW DO WE FIX IT?
If you’re ready to get off the expertise train and get into action, there are few ways to begin flexing this muscle.
#1: Give your journey purpose beyond your fear.
If you have a deep desire to express, create, heal, and change the world, it’s not an accident. While it’s possible that you’re just a random conglomeration of cellular material living out a meaningless existence, it’s also possible that you came to Earth for a reason. It’s completely feasible that the thing you deeply want to do needs doing-not just because it excites and sustains you, but because it helps humanity evolve in some small way. Perhaps the thing you are meant to contribute brings people pleasure or solves a problem. If this is the case, don’t hoard that purpose away from the people who need it most. When self-doubt and perfectionism pop up, remember that you’re on a mission, and that the mission is bigger than the fear.
#2: Lead with your story, not your resume.
In my time as a recruiter, I found that people generally want to hire the candidate they trust and get along with over the candidate with the longest resume. In my business, I have learned that though I have a lot of letters behind my name, that’s not why clients choose to work with me.
We are taught to lead with our skill set, our accomplishments, our proof that we are good, but the truth is that human beings are highly emotional creatures on a constant quest for meaning, and people generally gravitate toward stories they resonate with rather than cold, hard facts. The cold, hard facts of your resume are useful and important, but not as important as your own personal narrative.
I have a brilliant and talented client with a passion for women’s empowerment, and she came to me a little freaked out by the lack of relevant work experience on her resume. “I really want to work at this nonprofit that helps young girls learn the important things in life that they aren’t taught in school. But I don’t have kids or even a background in helping kids. Do I need to go back to college first?”
I asked her the simple question that changes everything: “Why? Why are you drawn to this? Why do you feel pulled toward this work?”
She had a bumpy childhood that led to low self esteem, which turned into self-destructive decisions, and she was able to point to specific moments that might have changed her story. She could easily come up with solutions for the problems she hadn’t known her nine year-old self had.
“It doesn’t sound like you are a qualified candidate for this job,” I told her. “It sounds like you are THE MOST qualified candidate for this job because you’ve lived this story. You are the after picture. What if you lead the interview discussion with your journey instead of your skill set?”
She got the job.
Reflect on your story. How have your life experiences shaped your expertise? How are you uniquely qualified for what you are meant to do?
#3: Out yourself.
One of the most powerful moments of my teaching career occurred when a student stumped me with a grammar question on the appropriate use of ellipses. It was my first year teaching, and I immediately broke out in a cold sweat. If I BS’d something, they would know and lose respect for me, but if I told them I didn’t have all the answer, would they think I was weak? I stood in front of the classroom, gulped, and decided to be honest.
“That’s an awesome question, Justin, and I have no clue what the answer is. I am appointing you as Chief Google Officer. Check it out on the classroom computer and report back to us in a few minutes.”
As he shared the answer with the class, a sort of magic came into the room. I had allowed myself to be seen as an imperfect human being, and so the students felt like they were allowed to be imperfect human beings, too. They started admitting when they didn’t understand a concept, and we were able to find answers as a community.
You can apply this to your career whether you’re in the student’s chair or the teacher’s. Instead of seeing people as either qualified experts or unqualified dilettantes, choose to see each person, including yourself, as both a student and a teacher.
While I have an English degree, a 7th-grader totally stumped me on a grammar question I’d never even considered. While Oprah is an amazing teacher, I am willing to bet that you are good at things she’s never even heard of. If you’re in the teacher’s chair, instead of puffing up your chest and pretending to know it all, out yourself as a complex human being who is constantly learning. If you’re in the student’s chair, have the guts to ask the question.
This is the harder path, but it is also the braver path.
Make no mistake. This path requires courage and trust. You may never reach some magical vista in which you never experience self-doubt again, so get okay with being in the space of vulnerability while you’re building your expertise. The world needs it.