Recently I had a chat with a group of women in the AEC industry about the usage of the moniker "Expert" and how men and women use it differently to describe themselves. After that discussion, I had a look back at all the various bios that I've written for myself over the years and noticed that I didn't use that word in any of them - in fact, the only two place that the word "Expert" is used to describe me is in the bio slides for the webinars I give as part of my job, and that's only because the sample slides use that word, and in the new title I received last year of "Autodesk Expert Elite."
Why is that? I definitely believe myself to be an expert in a variety of things, both work and non-work related. What is it about the word "Expert" that makes some people avoid it? Why don't I use it myself?
Maybe we start with what the word means. The definition in Merriam-Webster's dictionary:
expert | \'ek-,spərt\
1. one with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject
2. having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience
So, let's unpack that a bit, starting with the first definition. What does it mean to master something? A common saying comes to mind, "Practice makes perfect" which really isn't correct, as achieving perfect is in reality an unattainable goal. What I like to say instead, and I tell my kids that all the time, is "Practice makes progress" (I even had some fun lettering it early on in the pandemic.)
How do you know when you have truly mastered something? When it comes to Revit, I like to use this - the Six Stages of Revit
Even this doesn't use the word "Expert" which is interesting.
What does it mean to call yourself an expert? What about when others call you an expert? I have spoken to women who have said that they reluctantly accept when someone else calls them an expert. Why is this? Why are women in particular less likely to accept that they "Know their sh%*?" I know the answer - we are taught from a young age to be humble and unassuming, that's why and I'm calling BS on that.
Let's take a look at the second definition now which talks about training or experience. I think that this one may be what some people latch onto. I know plenty of people who consider themselves "Experts" after having taken a training class on something, which, in my opinion, is far from the truth. I had professors in college who thought they were architecture experts even though they never actually designed a real building or worked on construction documents (all men, I might add).
Let's think about this in another way, which I think might make it a lot easier for everyone to use the word - are there things that others come to you for advice on? Are you the "go-to person" for a particular workflow or task in your office? If so, then you are an Expert in that thing! But remember, this can be a double edged sword - don't let people know you're an expert at something that you don't really like doing - you don't have to like something to be an expert at it. I'm an expert at cleaning the kitchen but do I really LIKE it?
Some people think that if they call themselves an Expert, then they are expected to know all the answers, that they can't ask questions anymore. I personally don't feel that way. I think that a true Expert understands when they don't know something, admits to it, but then goes on a quest to find the answer (that's totally me, for better or for worse). I tell all my clients, "If I don't know the answer, I will find you an answer. Then answer may be that you can't do that thing, but it's still an answer."
Back to my bios - I use words like "experience" and "specialized in" instead of direct words that describe me. In other place like my Twitter and LinkedIn, l like to use more descriptive words. As I've been writing this blogpost, I've realized that I like to use words that are more unique and descriptive and maybe that's why I in particular don't use the word "Expert" - it's not that I don't think that I'm one (and anyone who knows me knows that I'm happy to talk about what I know and to figure out how to learn the thinks that I don't know).
We've come to the end of my ramblings and I want to leave you with this - words are what we want them to be and we are in control of them. Make your own narrative, use the words that YOU want to use for yourself and others will follow suit. Own your expertise and use it to your advantage and also to help those who don't have that same advantage and privilege that you have. This is how you become an expert, a thought leader, a master, a sherpa, a guru, a specialist... or whatever other word you want to use. When other's look to you, you are an EXPERT and you should own the word, whether or not you use it yourself or not.
As my friend Chiara Rizzarda said "I'm a BIM expert, provided that such a thing exists" (and you should check out her blog here. It's AMAZING)
If this post spoke to you in any way, leave me a comment, let me know your thoughts, let's have a chat!