Anyone who calls herself an ‘expert’ has a big problem

I spent more than 15 years in the news industry. Correctly naming people and objects was one of  the most obvious yet important requirements I tasked my staff with doing. It wasn’t a big deal to get it right, but it was really easy to get it wrong.

I know I’m not alone in demanding that things be correctly identified. I know so because I attended a county planning commission meeting recently, and the commission’s lawyer started reading from Webster’s dictionary to defend why the planning board had to adhere to its own rules.

That meeting was an eye-opener, mainly because I found it ludicrous that the commission’s lawyer — whom a co-protestant in a zoning dispute told me “had to be dug up” to defend our position — had to explain to the board why it must follow its own rules (which probably also explains why he was sent to the catacombs in the first place).

But moreso hearing the lawyer at that meeting reinforced my belief that calling things by their names, and accurately describing them in future references, is essential to ensuring one ends up on the same page as the people with whom one communicates.

Why do I mention this? Not only to point out that I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to the English language, but also to make the point that nobody is an “expert.” We can all be great at various things. I expect astronauts to know their job duties inside and out, and to know the machinations of the rockets or the safety mechanisms in their suits. I like to think of myself a professional writer, an experienced digital marketer, and really good at what I do.

But an expert? In my newsroom, the word was forbidden because it was vague and didn’t mean anything. We called people by their professional titles, or by the position they took — an author, an advocate, an opponent, etc.

So if you meet someone who calls herself an expert, beware. It probably means that she’s stopped learning. And in my field, like sharks swimming in the ocean, if you stop learning, you die. So don’t ever expect me to call myself an expert. I’m just someone who continues to closely track the evolution of my field so that I may be able to help you out.

So call me a helper, a guide, your go-to gal, marketer, strategist, or guru (no, don’t call me that), but however you describe me, I hope you think of me as someone in your corner helping you get to your goals.