How do you become an expert?

Early in my blogging days, I held off on writing about important topics because I wasn’t an expert. In my mind, the only ones who should’ve been writing were folks with deep knowledge and experience on a topic.

In hindsight, I admit that was a very naive viewpoint.

Tune into just about any media channel today – cable, blogs, Twitter and friends – and self-proclaimed experts are opining about any and every topic you can imagine. Often, they’re no better informed about a subject than you or I. The difference: their voice is amplified by a platform.

In many regards, the gauge by which we judge an expert is the reach of their platform, not the actual expertise from which they speak.

Public speaking

I started in public speaking because I wanted to learn.

I picked a topic I found interesting and courted multiple meetups and conferences to vet the idea of my speaking about it. I wasn’t an expert in any way. Forcing myself to learn a topic or skill well enough to teach it to others forced me to become one.

I learned WordPress. JavaScript. Asynchronous programming and unit testing. I’ve presented technical talks in seven countries across three continents.

And prior to any of this, no one considered me an expert in anything. It’s through public speaking – through teaching others – that I gained enough experience.

Find your curiosity and chase after it

I write to force myself to keep learning. It’s one thing to know a skill. It’s another thing entirely to know a skill well enough to explain it to someone else.

If you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself,

In a world where technology is constantly evolving and expanding, a failure to learn continuously is professionally fatal. I need to challenge myself constantly to keep growing and working in the spaces I find comfortable. I need to actively stretch myself, intentionally seeking discomfort, to keep learning new skills and technologies.

And I need to push myself to teach those new things to others. If for no other reason than to prove to myself that I’ve actually mastered them.

If you want to become an expert, do likewise. Find the thing you’re most curious about, chase after it with reckless abandon, and invest the time required to teach it to others. In doing so you will deepen your own mastery, begin to build your platform and voice, and become recognized as an expert.