This is big. I want you to step to the edge with me and let go, really let go, of the expert thing.
I’ve travelled far and wide talking to brilliant women, and again and again I see us shying away from sharing our voices. We are convinced we aren’t “expert” enough on the topics that we long to speak, or write or teach about.
Maybe you want to want to teach about surviving trauma, but you didn’t study trauma survival. You only lived it.
Or you want to speak about parenting special needs children, but those other people are the experts. You only did it once.
Maybe you’d like to teach about reinventing oneself after divorce, but you have no formal training in that – you just did it yourself and have been helping some friends do the same.
So you are not talking, not launching, not teaching. We’ve got to change that.
Of course, I have tremendous respect for expertise. I think we are blessed –absolutely blessed – to live in an era when information is is produced and distributed with greater volume and accessibility than ever before. We are blessed to have diverse, specialized educational programs that allow us to develop experts on pretty much any topic you can name. As a society, we need our experts. They are incredibly important.
And yet. And yet. Somehow, many women of conscience of internalized the idea that because they aren’t an expert in…(you name it – climate change, child abuse, art, local politics, etc.) they can’t really speak up. They don’t have much to offer. They shouldn’t be the one to write the op-ed, launch the campaign, start the business.
As a child, you may have been shamed for not knowing enough, told you didn’t know enough to speak up. I’ll never forget the time, when, as a child, I was talking to a grownup about how war was insane and one day we could evolve beyond it. “Well dear, that’s very nice, but war will always be with us. It’s the way the world works.” What was I really being told in that moment? “Let the status quo truth we all agree on out here in the world displace what you know to be true in your heart.” Ah, got it. Message received.
I want to ask you to change this in yourself, to change any form of the “well, I’m not an expert” thing rumbling around in your head.
I’ve come to believe that, within the context of this culture, it is a rite of passage, a milepost on the journey to empowerment, to speak out on the topics where we don’t have formal expertise. It is a reclaiming of voice, of citizenship, of conscience.
It is a particularly important rite of passage for women because, whatever the topic, the body of knowledge that makes up “formal expertise” tends to be shaped by a male perspective – either because the field is still dominated by male leaders or because the foundations and basic paradigms of the field were developed before women had access to it.
Speak on the things that move your heart. Speak about the things that cause you outrage. Speak about the things you’ve experienced and what you’ve come to believe as a result of those experiences. Speak about your vision for how some part of our world could be different.
I’ll be writing more about this “expert” topic, because I believe it’s part of what is at the center of the knot – the knot we feel in our chests, in our throats, when we lean towards speaking up but then don’t. We must unravel it.
I love all of you.
Thanks for reading,
photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon
Join the discussion 77 Comments
I couldn’t agree more with you on this topic, Tara. I’m one off those women who was told/shown as a child that speaking up was best left to those who actually “knew something.” I grew up thinking everyone else knew more than me, and it took a long time for me to realize that my voice is not only worth being heard, but what I have to say is often valuable. Thank you, thank you for writing and sharing this post. I’m so looking forward to more of what you have to say on this important topic. .
I agree one hundred percent!
Thank you Tara! You have spoken words that have been roaming through my “non-expert” head for years. So many things I am not an expert on but so many things I’ve actually lived through…not through books but experience. Definitely need those experts but I know there’s a place for me too! Thank you for the encouragement as always!
Thank you! A year and a half ago I left a career in investing to pursue another in poverty alleviation and follow my heart…and this was the biggest heart v head risk I’ve ever taken. Fast forward to today, and I’m in the middle of vetting a job opportunity, where I get to stand for and help spread work I truly believe in. I have been asked to run an organization because of my skill set and how I think, and not my expertise – I have never led an organization and I did not grow up in the social sector. I have the veterans in the field telling me, “it doesn’t matter how smart you are, you have no credibility in this role.” I know I was offered this job for a reason. It feels right. But I really needed to hear this today!
I constantly repeat these words to myself in my head…thank-you for breaking through and introducing these beautiful words as a possibility instead.
I really like the way you think outside the box. It makes me always want more. It makes me want to be personal friends with you and just talk and throw ideas out there. Way too many women, or at least the women I know, don’t dream. Somewhere along the way we gave up who we are for the men we loved or married, for family. We sank into the role and the person we thought we were supposed to be or taught to be through generation after generation. I’ve made many mistakes along the way, and I feel I have done wrong by my children by living someone elses dream and only being in a supportive role. I see them making the same mistakes I made and they do that because I unknowningly taught them to settle and to be submissive. I didn’t teach them to dream and keep dreaming and to live life and learn and do and go. I held them back. I hope you have a following of younger women. Women who are just starting their lives and their families and that they really seriously hear and understand what you are saying. Maybe one day I will find a person like you to be friends with and they will give me the strength to change and start dreaming again.
Tara – I appreciate not only the encouragement, but also the call to action. Both are welcome nudges. Thanks as always for being tuned in to what we need to hear. ~ Carolyn
Such a great and resonating post. That feeling has definately held me back at times! But…I’m starting to also feel if there is something that is messed up (in my case it’s the state of education)maybe folks “outside” of the expertise have some valuable out of the box ideas that will help make it better!! That’s what I’m going with for now anyways!! 🙂
It’s me again. I stole these words from another author but I think it fits the situation. It came from Rori Raye, Have the Relationship You Want. I find that subscribing to any blog that encourages you to think outside the box so you don’t keep making the same mistakes helps see areas in your life you can improve upon. Makes you open up. Anyway, here is a snippet from her blog . . .
Have you ever heard of “muscle memory?”
It’s really cool: It’s what happens to your muscles over time when you repeat a certain movement – your body starts doing the movement AUTOMATICALLY.
Like when you’re learning to ride a bicycle: At first, you have to really THINK about every aspect of what you’re doing – pedaling, sitting up, keeping your hands on the handle bars, etc.
After a while and lots of practice, you just get up on your bike and go. It’s a smooth ride.
There’s hardly any THINKING. Sure, you need to be aware of what’s around you, but you don’t have to be putting thought into how to actually ride the bike. You just get to ENJOY the ride. . . . (I hope I didn’t break any rules by sharing someone else’s words.)
I think dreaming and telling our stories is what we must start doing and keep doing to make change, then it will just be automatic and natural and not hard to get up and speak out and make change however it works for you. Teach, talk, live, or share the wisdom you have gained by living it. Share YOUR story. It WILL help someone else.
How timely! At this time I’m making a transition out of a profession where I truly am an expert and wanting to start something of which my expertise is limited to my personal experience and the experience of those who have shared their stories with me. Putting on the explorer, inquirer, facilitator hat and taking off the expert hat is a bit of a challenge. This was so very encouraging. Thank you.
Yep. Guilty as charged. It is something I have recognized in myself and have been working to change. It is easier to say “No” to an opportunity and put the “lack of expertise” argument up there as a reason than it is to stretch myself and try something new. It’s fear, really. I’m working on feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
This is so true for all women. Another portion of this is how no one within a company culture is considered an “expert.” The company always has to go outside for an “expert” to come in an impart their knowledge. Why is that one true as well? When I was teaching–there always had to be someone from outside our school who was an expert to have come in an speak and share their knowledge. Many times we had people on staff with far more working knowledge and who truly were experts but they were never considered the expert since they worked within our own faculty. This makes no more sense to me than the “shared” fact that many women are not experts–that’s just a “crock.”
This is one of the most important lessons I have learned from you, Tara. Not only to value my own voice and heart and experience, but to realize that deep learning also comes from doing it. Even our kids don’t realize that the real learning begins once you have the degree and get out into the world and really experience it.
On the flip side, I find that there are many people out there who claim to be experts when they are not.
Part of our early conditioning as women was also that we were “too much”. Too loud, too enthusiastic, showing too much feeling.
That also told us not to make too much noise, bring too much attention to ourselves, and especially not speak truth to power.
So our task now is to literally claim our voice, and acknowledge our experience and gifts. Another reason to develop a strong group of women around us, doing the same.
It is the center of the knot. It is the gag that binds our tongues. Our suppressed expression causes us to violate each other, too. It is the reason so many women suffer by midlife. It Is the reason we fall into chronic illness and depression. For me expressing myself with compassion, with out judgement allowed all of me to come forth- my anger, my outrage…my longings and profess them, then I was alive. When we realize that we are the experts on our journey and that our journey matters, if only to one other as a start, without a golden globe or oscar award, we are free.
Ditto to everything everyone has said. Having been “expertly” educated out of my own voice by the same finance whiz’s who helped take our economy down, am finally reclaiming it. Tonight I launch my first spiritual discussion group after decades of just dreaming about it! Thanks for your inspiration Tara.
Tara – I’m so happy you included the reality that women’s voices weren’t part of forming many of the structures and conversations that have shaped our society. It doesn’t mean they are less valued or “legit” although it can feel that way as we try and change the status quo. If anything, the mix of the feminine and masculine creates the elusive balance we are all always trying to find.
I find this absolutely the case in my field of health and wellness. I wrote a piece on it back in November called “How Masculine Metaphors Are Sabotaging Your Health and Weight”. The article is here: http://bit.ly/SJDo1O. It illustrates how when medicine does embrace more feminine, intuitive, empathetic qualities, outcomes improve. Just like most times when you give women something, they always turn it into something better.
P.S. I meant to add too that intuition and empathy are both expertises in their own right that all women have naturally. They can be developed but more importantly, we need to remember they are natural to women in particular. So it’s just rediscovering what’s always been there. Your suggestions to start speaking from the heart, etc. are great reminders!
Thanks so much again for another inspirational post. Ironically, this is exactly what I needed right now. I’m a freelance writer, and though I feel confident being able to go out and write on many topics, my passion would be to write for entertainment & gaming industries. Yet, I have few connections to people there, have not worked in those areas, and really feel like there’s too much information about them that I haven’t yet studied.
But I can’t hold back from writing about these areas just because I’m not an “expert.” I’ve taken small steps to move forward towards entertainment and gaming writing (like becoming a blogger for Fanhattan), and I will continue to do so.
After all, maybe the experts sometimes need us amateurs to remind them why they’re doing what they’re doing in the first place.
Blessings & tot ziens,
Thank you, Tara, for this timely piece. As I prepare materials for a new course, I keep thinking I hadn’t studied it, I had “only” lived it. Yet, I learn best from a combination of research and *real-life stories* of others who have walked a few steps in front of me…providing me inspiration and encouragement which feels credible because they *have been there*. So, thank you for reflecting to me what I was unable to see. (Having been taught to be silent as a child, finding and sharing my voice now still leaves me in gratitude and awe!).
Good news. It’s nice to hear about concepts put into action.
Thank you Tara. I love getting your emails. Your emails are always uplifting. I am retiring in 6 weeks and looking forward to a new stage of my life.
You must have been reading my mind because right before I opened your email I was questioning whether I am actually capable and well equipped enough to share my ideas and voice with the world. The crazy thing is that I would be considered an expert in my field, but I still feel undeserving of the title! If I hadn’t read your email today my self doubt would have permeated my whole day. Now I have the opportunity to change my course and get back on track with my passion and message. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.
Thank You so much Tara for this post. I often feel I am not equipped to be a ‘spokesperson” for the babyloss community because I am not trained in grief, except by my own life experience of re-finding joy after my twin girls were stillborn in my third trimester. This morning on FB I saw a clip from The Ricki Lake show about a couple grieving the loss of their still born son. My husband saw me watching and asked if I wanted to be coaching on topics like this and I replied that I wasn’t qualified. Then they introduced the doctor they had talking to the couple. He was ‘fine’ in his comments, but he was a man. And a doctor. Not a grief counselor. I’ll bet it never occurred to him to feel ‘underqualified.’
Lesson (hopefully) learned….
I love this Tara. I’ve pinned it to my ‘INSPIRATION’ board on Pinterest. I find this piece very inspiring. It reminded me that I once wrote an ‘op-ed’ piece on not accepting the status quo, especially where young girls are concerned. And about speaking out on issue that you know about innately or through some experience, but are NOT and ‘expert’ but doing it anyway, because maybe someone who needs to know, is listening. I’ve been working (not hard – yet) at finding my voice. Thanks for this reminder!!
Reading your post put me in mind of a short article I just read about what the author termed our “five basic fears.” In it, he describes those fears and how they can play out in daily life–and makes the excellent point that when we experience them, we would do well to look at those fears as useful pieces of information. This is, in certain ways, somewhat of a Buddhist approach, interestingly. At any rate, please have a look…naming our fears at their most elemental can often go a long way towards untying those knots that hold us back. Would welcome your thoughts on this… http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brainsnacks/201203/the-only-five-basic-fears-we-all-live
Thank you, thank you, Tara! Yes, you are so right. I am a child abuse survivor,, rape survivor and a survivor of breast cancer and I speak up. It took me a long time to learn this lesson, but I no longer let other people’s opinions intimidate me.
Thank you for this message, Tara. Yes, we girls/women are socialized to be “best supporting actor” and assume that others make better directors or stars. Thanks for validating our vast wealth of collective and individual experience, out of which comes our expertise.
Thanks so much Dian. We have to unlearn all that garbage!! And we can.
Yes. I do think if more women just told their stories, it would change the world.
Good for you for knowing that about yourself. I wish more women did. And i think you will really like an article I have coming out soon at 99u.com that speaks about innovators and leaders like you!
thank you Judy, what a beautiful comment!
It’s what I need to hear too! 🙂
Yes, Sandi and Karen – my upcoming post at 99u.com speaks just to this. Look forward to hearing your thoughts on that one too. And thanks for writing and for walking the path you are walking. I have no doubt you are adding tremendously to the conversation in your fields.
Fabulous post, Tara. Thank you. Coming just at the moment when I most need to hear it. Some work I have had for a long time is going away, and I want to step out bravely into a new area of work. I also want to start publishing some of my writing so I set up a blog to do that. Your post reminds me to stay true to these goals and not to let the voice of doubt, that inner critic, step in and tear me down. Thank you. I always love your posts.
Thank you, thank you for this.
Thank you. It is so true, when i was a child I was ever told not to speak, not to make a fuss etc. I have learned to live like that and now mt thyroid is acting up, which is the throat Chakra, the speaking one, because I repressed this for so many years. Last year, I have decided that eventhought I am not an expert at public speaking I will tell the world about my life, what happened etc… I took a course with KC Baker, went to NY and spoke in front of 150 women or so. What a great experience. I am so ready to speak now and your newsletter is showing me that I do not need to be an expert. Thank you. Bring me the stages.
Tara..your words are empowering and inspiring – thankyou
Thank you Tara. This was well-timed for me. This week I had a few precious days with my mother – a mother-daughter visit here where I live in downtown Toronto. We went to see the Frida & Diego exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the next day a play called The Penelopiad written by Margaret Atwood. I coach professional women who work in stressful environments and who are overwhelmed, frustrated or stuck. I help them create their own definition of success and then work toward it. I was just waiting to see what connections I would find among these experiences this week and my work. I knew they were there and that I would soon connect the dots. Well, you helped me with that with this blog. The Penelopiad was about giving a voice/story and names to Penelope’s maids who were killed by Odysseus for following Penelope’s orders and ‘distracting” Penelope’s suitors , assuming Odysseus was dead, since he had been missing for 10 years after the Trojan War. The play was put on entirely by women by the Nightwood Theatre company. It was so powerful on so many levels! And of course Frida Kahlo’s work has many of the same elements in it, in terms of the way she told her “story” in such a personal and riveting way through her art. Anyway, the piece I am looking at now is that voiceless/nameless/story-less piece and how it connects with our work in finding our voice and standing up as experts and helping this world become a better place. And then there is how I can support my clients to develop the self trust to find their voices, to take their whole selves to both their professional and their personal lives. I so believe that helping women thrive through empowerment is a key piece to this puzzle. Thank you for helping me connect the dots!
Thank you Tara, I always find your words interesting, thought provoking and very accurate. I am 63 years and still waiting until I know enough. Maybe I should stop waiting!
Your comment is spot on! Women are taught to be submissive.
My mother dedicated her entire like to my father.
I would ask my mother don’t you want to live your dreams?
She said I’ll live vicariously though you my dear.
My mother empowered me to follow my dreams yet she fell into
A submissive role. Later in life I followed the same pattern.
I recently woke up after reading Tara Morh’s “do something that
Makes you gasp…I did! I took 2 months off to travel. What was surprising
Was what the women said in my life: “what is HE going to think? That is
A long time to be away!” It is as if I am owned property! Not to mention that
the women could not understand that I am 100% self sufficient! Women are not put on this earth to just clean the house, do the laundry, and take
Care of spoiled teenagers! When will women wake up and realize this false
Sense of security is stealing their seconds, minutes and years of their lives!
My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer 4 months after my dad died.
She banked in that “if your dad dies before me I will enjoy life”.
She died far too young. I told my sister whom had a similar life style
“There isn’t any reward at the end for slaving for your husband and children.” After seeing my mom die she filed for divorce. She said it
Made her realize she was throwing her life away. I realized the same.
I was afraid to break the chain of my daily routine. I was STUCK!
Two months off in sunny weather by myself is the best thing I have done! I feel my dreams are coming back… Travel! I can’t waste another
second! I no longer will live to support a family whom is capable of doing their own laundry cooking and cleaning! I’m free as a bird!
Thanks Tara for saying ” Do something that makes you gasp!”
This is just the beginning! I’m re-claiming my life! I was terrified but
Now that I broke the chain I am FREE to dream for me!
[…] because of some fantastic advice from a fellow writer (and friend) and because I happened across an essay by the wonderful Tara Mohr that literally left me slack-jawed and stunned because it was so damn […]
Thank you, thank you, thank you Tara. I have found myself being that women who’s ideas have been taken into consideration only after a male has put their stamp of approval on it. Or wanted to turn to members of a group and said-“Didn’t I just say that”.
I loved this article Tara-I look forward to future posts.
Your works are a relief Tara, I read them again & again then I’m recharged. Thanks I wish there’s more like you around, God bless you.
[…] I stumbled across this post by Tara Mohr on being an expert. How women shy away from this type of exclamation because we feel […]
[…] week I wrote here about how so many brilliant women are held back by the “but I’m not an expert” […]
[…] Are you being held back by the “expert” thing? […]
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