Defining Expertise: Hey, Don’t Ask Me!

I used to be an expert.
Does that make me a “former expert” or “ex-officio expert”?
Or just a “has-been”?

I didn’t start out wanting to be an expert. I mean, sure, by virtue of the era in which my ideology formed, I wanted to save the world. I also wanted to be held in the highest esteem possible by anyone who knew me, with an eventual tombstone glowing with evidence of my enormously valuable existence.

But, an expert? The thought never crossed my mind until a mentor in my previous life told me that’s what I was, without even trying.

I used to be a social worker. There are millions of them, and most have more degrees than I did. When I accepted a position as the first case manager assigned the task of caring for women and children with HIV in the city of Houston, I became, my beloved supervisor Susan Patania told me, an expert in the arena.

Later in life, when I started littering the Internet by way of keyboard strokes back in the early 90’s, the immensity and audacity of calling oneself an ‘expert’ became more clear.

I felt frankly overwhelmed by the thought that readers were looking at what I said and making life-altering choices based on a combination of well-spun opinion, some book learning, and a little experience.

As a result, my empathy for health care practitioners blossomed. I’d already worked with them over many years and had come to a few conclusions on doctors, nurses, and technicians – the kind of people they started out as and how they ended up. Once I felt the invisible searching eyes of hundreds of thousands (oh, my, the enormity of the Web!) poring over my thoughts in the ether, I had an enriched idea of how heavy their sense of responsibility must feel.

Friends and family know that Persistence is my middle name. So I didn’t let the burden of being “an expert” get me down. Instead, I became the Queen of Collaboration. There are far more expert experts than I, and enough Internet out there to share.

Accordingly, you’ll be reading more from other experts out there in SMW’s Health Channel, starting with a book review (written by experts in alternative medicine) by my good friend, Paul R. Nelson, who is an expert in myriad fields.

I even let the vision experts from the American Optometric Association tell me how bad I am to my own eyeballs. The month of April will bring even more viewpoints to our growing table.

For years now, spreading the responsibility around, delegating the tasks, sharing the sceptor, is what I’m all about in my professional life. (We won’t apply this conversation to my personal world where I still reign supreme, much to the chagrin of some folks in my household.)

Being first makes you an expert for a little while. Sticking around long enough to nurture your replacements gives you grande dame status. Knowing when to say someone else is better equipped than you for a job: that takes real smarts.

The Not Expert ~Tracy Morris, Health Channel editor