I’ve become a beginner again.
You know, for the last 10 or so years of my life, I’ve been working in the WordPress space developing products. I’m still intimately involved in that process every day at Awesome Motive, but it is no longer in the same capacity as before. I used to build them myself; now I lead and inspire others to do the building instead.
When you do the same thing for 10 years, you develop certain skills. You transition from a beginner to knowledgeable practitioner to seasoned veteran to expert. It’s a natural pattern for anyone in any industry. You amass a large library of information on a particular subject, and that growing repository of data becomes a treasure that you both guard and display.
But as a beginner, you have nothing to lose. No question is silly. Mistakes come early and often. You actively seek advice because you care more about learning than appearing stupid. You throw yourself into the crucible hoping to be molded into something new every day.
As we transition from beginner to expert, if we are not careful, we face a dangerous and potentially fatal reality: we lose our ability to act and approach things like a beginner. Misplaced confidence in our newly acquired knowledge puffs us up, and it shields us from the very attitude necessary to continue to grow. We become like frogs in slowly warming water, not realizing we are on the path to being boiled alive.
I’ve seen it happen to so many people, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve seen it in myself too. The attitude you need the most – the one of a curious beginner – becomes the attitude you fear the most.
And if you don’t take the steps necessary to address it, it will destroy you. It will eat away at your ability to learn new things, and it will rot your current position as an expert.
I call it “expertitus”, and the symptoms are very real. You forfeit connection with those “beneath” you. You hang in the same circles to fill up your expert tank. You forego opportunities to learn for fear that the emperor really doesn’t have clothes. You outwardly act as if you know something when you don’t, because experts are “supposed” to know, and you are the expert after all.
If that wasn’t already bad, it gets worse. The most insidious effect of becoming an expert in anything is the tendency for it to poison your judgment in non-related fields. Somehow, my being an expert in creating great products also makes me believe I am an expert in legal matters.
Would I ever say that out loud? Psssh no, you’d never catch the words from my lips. Of course I would admit I don’t know much about legal matters. But the way I approach the subject and the experts around it tells an entirely different story.
I appear as if I know what the actual experts are talking about. I ask single chute questions designed to make me look more knowledgeable than I really am. I quickly nod in agreement when an answer is given as if I already knew it beforehand. I feign understanding when my gut is desperate to ask for clarification.
All with a polite smile and smug confidence.
I’ve watched this disease overcome so many people. Left untreated, you become lonely, unhappy and unable to develop real relationships with anybody. By clutching on to your expert label, you lose touch with the things that truly matter.
I’m sure you can relate. You are either an expert, or you’ve interacted with an expert, and you’ve seen the symptoms for yourself.
Maybe “expertitus” is just a fancy term for unchecked pride.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that to happen to me. I’m checking my pride at the door. I’m acknowledging the symptoms and coming clean. I’m leaving my ego behind and making a bold declaration.
It’s good to become a beginner again.
P.S. Want to discover the driving force behind this post? Click here to read my previous article “The Coding Chapter is Closing”.