Be an Expert

From Gerald R. Lucas

Few would discount the benefits of a strong education. In fact, a democracy depends on social engagement of an educated citizenry to continue to function, so we in the US even make public education free for all. However, one of the disadvantages to attending school for the first two decades of our lives could be seen in the institutional affects of the system on our thinking. In other words, school teaches us to be students, not autonomous thinkers. In order to be truly educated, then, we must eschew student-thinking. Your mantra this semester should be:

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“I am not a student. I am a professional.”

Eliminate "student" from your vocabulary - delete it from your mind and be sure it does not appear in any of your work. Stop, too, letting it be an excuse for mediocre or perfunctory work - that you are incapable of doing professional work right now. Make the time and effort to always do your best work: that's how professionals operate, or they are not taken seriously, nor will they work much. Stop looking to some mythical future time (like after graduation) when you will be qualified to do expert work; project yourself forward and be that person now. When you think of yourself as a professional, you will begin to work like a professional. One of the key aspects to developing your professional persona is to establish credibility with your expert community.

Join Your Expert Community

First, figure out what community you want to belong to as a professional: we'll call this your expert community. Begin to research that community on social media and the web at large. Find out who are the influencers of your expert community and follow them on Twitter. What do they read? How do they communicate? Why are they a mover and a shaker? What makes them professionals? Experts? In other words, participate in your expert community and begin to share your ideas and work. Do not be intimidated by your lack of experience; you have to begin somewhere and sometime. That time is now.

You might be surprised at how welcoming communities of experts can be online. For example, a few years ago I wanted to take up photography as a hobby and develop an expertise. Yes, I looked to traditional forms of learning an art: reading some books and gaining technical proficiency through practice. However, I learned more by finding communities of established photographers sharing their work online and joining them; I shared my own work, asked questions, commented on their work, and in return, I received more help from the community than I likely ever would have in a classroom. In essence, I hacked my education: I had a passion for photography, I participated an expert community, and I learned at my own pace and through my own effort.

Part of being an expert is showing your passion in your work - even if it's not the best. We learn by making mistakes, so don't be afraid to fall down. These are the best lessons, as long as we get back up and try again.

This does not mean adopting a haughty attitude, but being humble and confident. You are worthy to join your expert community, but that does not mean acting like a know-it-all. A bit of humility in your participation goes a long way. Ask questions. Be gracious. Offer assistance. Be positive, but also insist on the best from others and yourself. Remember: no one likes jerks. Seriously, one way to show you’re not an expert is by pretending to know it all.

Make It Count

Make a conscious and active effort to embrace your inner expert this semester in everything you do. Always keep your expert community in the forefront of your mind when doing any work for this class. In fact, don't think if it as merely class work, but as opportunities to build your professional persona.

Everything you do should be in an effort to sell yourself as an expert - a professional who is conscientious, creative, and connected.

If you do a lesson or project just for the sake of making a grade, you have failed to embrace a professionalization opportunity. Even if an assignment does not readily present itself as germane to your expertise, find a creative way to make it count. Begin your work early; revise it multiple times; work together; go above-and-beyond the project parameters; communicate. You know, do all the things a professional does.

The best way to do well in this class is to not think of it as a class. This is a professional opportunity for you to take risks, show that you are a creative and enthusiastic professional, and build your reputation as an expert.

If you take this approach, not only will you succeed in the course, but you will find that your hard work will be more rewarding and will propel you into your life post-college.

Dispel that student thinking and be an expert.