Thursday, October 17, 2013

On expertise and passion

I was asked a strange question today. I was proposing a financial education workshop when the person on the other line asked, "What is your expertise?". The question made me cringe and gasp slightly. Its delivery was never derogatory, but somehow my initial reaction to it was. I became defensive, talking a little faster than usual. Immediately after that conversation was over, I found myself evaluating that gut reaction.

Because that is exactly what it was: a gut reaction. Somehow, I felt offended by the word "expertise". At first, I questioned my feelings of self-worth: did the word manage to shed light on any subconscious insecurities? But that wasn't it at all. I just have a problem with anyone who claims to be an expert at anything. Mainly because the word seems inhibiting. To be an expert means you have mastered something. It means to have reached a level of knowledge on any given subject or skill that any additional learning is useless. Worse, it paralyzes thinking and inflates egos.

I witnessed this working as a court stenographer in my other life. There were times when expert witnesses were subpoenaed to give their take on a given matter. Many sitting in that hot seat displayed such an aura of arrogance it was quite amusing. They became defensive when their testimony was challenged. Evaluating legal issues was processed as a personal attack. The questioning quickly shifted from one of fact finding to a battle of wits.

An expert I am not. Not because I lack the skills or even the drive or potential to attain that level of knowledge. To adopt the teachings of the philosopher Socrates, the only expertise I will claim to possess is the love of learning. Like Socrates, my mission is to enrich my life and the life of my clients by asking questions and not pretending to have all the answers. Besides, it's not rare to find individuals who claim to be self-professed experts of any given subject. Sometimes they go as far as to sell their wares as masters of all topics. Whether they are qualified or not does not matter, really. We have all been exposed to qualified folks who mislead and laymen who lead in the right direction. The difference between the two is passion, not intelligence or even experience. Which is precisely how I perceive my personal qualifications. I have a passion for mobilizing women and helping them see their self-worth. I want women to know their value, to believe in themselves enough to manage their own financial affairs. Sure, knowledge and experience gained along the way will aid that passion. By committing to learning, and not expertise, I enable women to perceive financial independence as a right and not a burden. Once I limit myself to mastering financial literacy, I lose sight of my goal and my ego is easily bruised. My campaign will no longer be about helping women, but helping myself. So the next time anyone asks about my expertise, I will not defend it nor define it, but simply reply: passion.

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