The Secret to Becoming an “Expert”

You have prepared to act. You have studied and earned degrees. You have completed training programs and landed a job. The time for thinking and planning and evaluating has either passed or it has not yet arrived. Your desk is clean. Your computer, open. The page, blank. Your phone is poised to connect you to wherever and whomever you want. You are on your way to showing up. And you have sent that tiny gremlin in your head (your inner critic) out for groceries.

Or so you thought.

You know, you don’t really know what you’re talking about, right?

You’ve never done this before (or, well, it’s been forever). What makes you think you’ll do it right?

You don’t belong here. You don’t have enough experience. Or sufficient training. Or the requisite knowledge. In any event, you’re certainly no expert.

They’re all going to laugh at you…or worse. They’re all going to ignore you.

Look, the little dude would not be very good at protecting you from unforeseen harm if he was so easily banished whenever you felt like switching the script and trying something new. He does not like surprises, so you are going to need a different approach. You are going to have to convince him that there is nothing “new” to fear here.

You are going to have to fake it.

Fake It ‘Til You Become It

That’s right, fake it. Whatever new task you are undertaking, whatever path you are setting out on for the first time, do it as if you have done it before. A million times. Imagine what having that kind of experience would feel like. Stand up and puff out your chest. Peer down from your pedestal. Then pull that trigger and let fly like there’s no tomorrow.

Seriously, give it a try. It works. It’s science.

Amy Cuddy’s riff on the power of even small physical behaviors to shift thought patterns and raise confidence (“Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”) just might change your life. In any event, hers is one of this TED talk nerd’s all-time top five. In it, Cuddy addresses studies which demonstrate that confidence and high performance can be reverse engineered; that the causal link between how we carry ourselves and how we feel about ourselves actually runs both ways (i.e., not only do confident, high performers stand taller, but folks who stand taller quickly become more confident and perform at a higher level).

(Start at the 7:01 mark to skip the introductory information.)

But Cuddy does far more than detail a cool “life hack.” She exposes one of the deep, dark secrets of success—that every expert in every field has, at one time or another, felt like a bumbling, inexperienced novice in the very area of their now apparent brilliance; that even they, at some point, had to fake it. That faking it is a necessary first step to becoming it.

So when I say “fake it,” I do not mean to suggest that you aim to fool anyone (other than your gremlin, of course). I do not recommend being disingenuous or inauthentic. I mean to urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to stop waiting for someone’s approval. It’s never going to come, at least not from the outside.

Only you have the power to grant yourself permission to do what you want to do, to make the time to achieve what you want to achieve… To be, right now, who you want to become.

A version of this post first appeared on Brian’s blog, Against the Grain.

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