On Effort and Expertise

Once I got the topic rolling, how could I NOT make a Nick Burns reference?

A few days ago, a request for information turned into an email from our vice-principal (on behalf of our President’s office) about helping our President coordinate live Tweets into her All College welcome presentation.  That request was internalized, and then turned into the following Tweet:

I’ll admit, it was a little snarky, but it was indicative of how things can sometimes work on my campus, and probably on your campus too. We’re all familiar with the voluntellism culture that I’ve written about before- this was simply a higher level version of that.

I tried to remove myself from the situation, and think about it as if someone brought the situation to me and I was trying to help them see the silver lining. Being identified as experienced in incorporating Tweets into presentations means that someone is paying attention to how I do my work. It means that a school that isn’t always willing to try new things is moving toward a new technology. And it means that something I enjoy can be done as part of my job. But with that said, there was a nagging part of me that said “With a marketing department that has a dedicated person for social media, and a whole IT department, why do I have to do it?”

That thought passed pretty quickly, because you don’t say no to the President’s office. You just don’t.

As I walked through the process of finding a platform to show Tweets in real time, answering questions about how the President and her staff could interact with the interface, an interesting word kept popping up: expert. Expert is a word I’ve always had a little bit of trouble with, and I’ve never really been sure why. When someone calls me an expert at anything, I’m always quick to correct them somehow. I do some form of deflecting to most complements, I’m sure this is no exception.

At first, I considered the fact that I could be thought of as an expert if I was willing to teach what I apparently have a lot of knowledge on. That thought intrigued me a little bit, especially when this Tweet from Paul Carrick Brunson surfaced a few days ago:

But the thought that I finally landed on was a big one. As the title of this blog implies, I consider myself a “Dedicated Amateur.” The reason I appreciate that term is because it recognizes the work involved with being good at something. I opened last Thursday with this little nugget:

And that’s the issue I was having. To me, expertise has somehow become synonymous with effortlessness. But in actuality, the things that we are good at are generally things we spend a lot of time on. Things we work at. Things that we maybe didn’t like or were terrible at initially, are now second nature. I would never want anyone to think that the tasks I appear talented at, aren’t things that I work hard at. The dedication element of talent is something I take very seriously. And yet, if you’re doing it right, the things that you’re expert at should appear effortless.

So while this whole thought process did little to (a) reduce the task at hand, or (b) afford me the opportunity to pass the responsibility to someone else by teaching it to them, it did help me understand my apprehension with being called “expert.” Maybe now I’ll stop deflecting it so often? (Eh, unlikely)

I want to leave you with a piece I heard on NPR yesterday that fits this topic well, and was one of those “don’t leave the car until it’s over” pieces. It’s about learning processes in the East and West, and how each culture treats struggle. I don’t want to say anymore, but if you have time- give it a listen. Nine minutes that made me think a lot about how I view intelligence, how others do, and what we teach our students.

One thought on “On Effort and Expertise

  1. Pingback: ‘Effortless’ Takes Effort: Lessons from Seth MacFarlane | The Dedicated Amateur

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