How The "Expert Myth" Actually Undermines Your Brilliance

What does it mean to be an "expert" at something? 

This question arises for my clients more often than you might think. So many talented, exceptional people with precious knowledge to share end up holding back their greatness (or hiding it behind a screen of qualifiers) because they don't believe that they are "expert" enough to speak with authority on their topic. 

In other words, they've fallen prey to the Expert Myth. 

Misunderstandings about what constitutes an "expert" abound in our culture—especially for those of us who work in the more, shall we say, ephemeral realms. Here are a few that I hear all the time: 

  • "I don't have a degree/certification in that."
  • "There are people out there who have been studying this stuff for years. How can I compete with that kind of knowledge and experience?"
  • "I still have a lot to learn."

One—or all—of the above may be true for you. But that doesn't mean you're not an expert. 

According to the dictionary, an expert is: "A person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area; having or involving authoritative knowledge."

Yup, that's right: all you need to be an expert is knowledge, skill, and experience.

Have you noticed that the word “expert” is directly related to the word “experience”? Your expertise comes from your experience in your subject matter—whether formal or informal, deliberate or accidental. If you have lived it, you can teach it.

It's not about how many letters come after your name, or where you got your degree. You simply need to have "authoritative knowledge": in other words, you need to know something that your students don't. Even if you're only two steps ahead of those you're teaching, you are still an expert to them. 

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Most of the authors I work with find that their expertise lives at the intersection of their passion, life experience, and area of study. Their individual life experiences and areas of interest, combined with the knowledge they've accumulated, make them unique in their fields. 

The same is true for me in my own work: I work with inspired authors in transformational fields not just because I'm an editor, but because I'm an editor / information organizer / yogini / musician / philosophy teacher / personal development geek. My life experiences and the passions I pursue outside of my daily work lend themselves to the exact nature of my expertise, which is helping inspired authors bring their big visions to life and step into their greatness on the page. 

Of course, just because you do something well doesn't mean you're an expert at every aspect of it. Just because I'm an editor doesn't mean I'm an expert in poetry or middle-grade fiction. Similarly, the fact that you're an entrepreneur doesn't make you an expert at small business finance. However, if you're a small business owner with a background in tax accounting who loves number and statistics like Sheldon Cooper loves string theory, you're probably qualified to teach (at least on an introductory level) those of us to whom "budget" reads like a four-letter word. 

The key to uncovering your expertise, both on the page and in your larger work, is to find that place where all of your genius talents, life lessons, and passionate interests intersect. When you find that sweet spot, you will bring to the table something that no one else in the world—even the most credentialed leaders—can offer in exactly the same way. 

This is why I encourage all of my clients to get really clear on their purpose, vision, ideal readers, and larger mission before they write a single word. When you know who you are, why you want to teach, and who you want to impact, you can confidently take a stand as an expert in your unique niche. 

So, HeartWriter: are you ready to take a stand as an empowered expert? If so, I'd love to hear your declarations in the comments below! 



Bryna René Haynes is the founder and President of The Heart of Writing, the chief editor for Inspired Living Publishing, and the best-selling author of The Art of Inspiration: An Editor's Guide to Writing Powerful, Effective Inspirational and Personal Development Books.In over a decade as a writer, editor, ghostwriter, designer, and publishing consultant, she has helped hundreds of authors find their authentic voices and create powerful, memorable, successful works. She lives outside of Providence, RI, with her husband, Matthew, and their little Moonbeam, Áine.