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How to Become an Expert in Your Chosen Field

I’m going to make a bold statement here: In the field of professional development, I consider myself an expert.

It’s not just because I’ve been writing this blog for over 5 years (any Joe-schmoe off the street can do this, you know!). Rather, it’s because I’ve immersed myself in the field—soaked up knowledge and applied it at a rapid pace. And these days, I really feel it’s paying off with a level of expertise few others possess.

You might be wondering what that actually means, so let me tell you: It means I feel an elevated level of respect. When I speak, my ideas are listened to and considered thoughtfully. I’m sought out by others to weigh-in on topics of debate. I have an entire library of past work I can reference. In short, I feel knowledgeable and empowered.

Pretty cool.

One of the most common things I hear from professionals when discussing reputation in the workplace is that they want to be seen as an expert. Whether you’re an administrative professional, a CEO, or a NASA engineer, expertise is something to strive for.

Experts know their stuff. They have vast pools of knowledge and can be relied on to provide accurate, insightful answers to even the toughest questions within their field of expertise. They have an abundance of wisdom, experience, and capability—and they aren’t afraid to use it. Colleagues at all levels sit up and take notice when an expert enters the room.

In short, regardless of who you are or what you do, your career will benefit from gaining a heightened level of expertise.

Here are just a few ways to become an expert in your chosen field.

1. Practice Makes Perfect

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers and many other bestselling non-fiction books, suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at any one task. That’s not easy to come by! If you work a 40-hour week, and you spend every moment at work practicing that specific task at which you want to gain expertise, and you work a full 52 weeks per year, it still takes about 5 years to hit the 10,000-hour mark.

This isn’t to be taken lightly. In order to be an expert, there’s no substitute for time. It takes dedication, discipline and focus. Unfortunately, at some point along the way, you will get discouraged.  It’s practically unavoidable, and too many people give up when that happens. They move on to the next thing and from there, the process of gaining expertise starts anew.

Becoming an expert requires a sincere, genuine desire to do the work. If you aren’t passionate about something, you won’t become an expert at it. That passion is what drives you forward when things get hard.

2. Network With Leaders In Your Field

Jim Rohn, personal development guru, says, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Scary isn’t it? Think about who those 5 people are for you.

If you want to “up” your professional game, you need to surround yourself with people who elevate you. Expertise is (almost) contagious. By spending time with people who are themselves experts in your field, you will naturally “catch” some of their wisdom.

Network with leaders and others who have the professional clout you’re seeking. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Listen as they share their insights. Observe them as they work. Find ways to spend more time in their presence. Be a sponge.

3. Mentor Someone In Your Field

Nothing helps engrain knowledge as effectively as sharing it, and there’s no shortage of young professionals looking for mentorship. When you see a rising star in your field, take that person under your wing. Guide them. Share what you know—the hard earned lessons you’ve collected over the years.

At the same time, keep your eyes, ears, and mind open. After all, the best part about mentorship is that—when it’s a strong partnership—both people learn equally. As a mentor, you’ll gain a new perspective about the work you do. Your mentee’s youthful inexperience can actually provide you with a wealth of powerful insight…if you’re open to it.

4. Be a Thought Leader

Experts are never content with the status quo. They’re always looking for the next “evolution” of their profession. They’re constantly trying new techniques, improving on existing concepts, exploring new ideas and adding value. They’re always looking to push the boundaries and expand the limits of their field. Experts are at the forefront, leading the way for the future of their profession.

Don’t simply accept “standard practice”. As an expert, your role is to question, challenge and innovate. Engage your brain. Think differently. Don’t be afraid of uncharted territory—relish it. Expertise requires a daring sense of adventure.

5. Demonstrate Your Knowledge 

Experts take pride in demonstrating and sharing their skills and knowledge. They always want to be of service to their professional community. If you want to be seen as an expert, put your expertise out there for all to benefit from. Let your ideas spark conversation. Be the catalyst that inspires others to think differently about your profession. Be loud and bold and unafraid of drawing attention to yourself and your point-of-view.

How do you do this? The written word is always a great place to start. Consider writing an article for a publication catering to your industry or profession. Or start a blog like this one (as I said, anyone can!). Nothing is more empowering than putting your thoughts out there for the world to see. And, as a published author—whether online or in print—you’re automatically afforded a certain level of authority. It’s not difficult to establish a name and reputation for yourself, but it does require effort.

Another way to demonstrate and share your expertise is to train others—offer to present on a topic of interest at a local industry conference or meeting of your professional association. Host a lunch and learn event at your company, or simply share tips and resources with your colleagues. Don’t be afraid of lifting others up and helping them shine—experts are eager to raise the bar for their profession, not just for themselves.

6. Stay Up-To-Date On Trends

Every field is changing, some more rapidly than others. Experts always stay at the forefront. They explore new trends and understand where their industry is headed. They have foresight and aren’t afraid of the latest and greatest technology and innovations that create upheaval to the tried and true methods of the past. While others fight the shifting waves of progress, experts absorb the knowledge and, when appropriate, ride those waves to success.

Reading is perhaps your best tool for doing this. Professional publications often discuss emerging trends and how they’re shaping the future. Get to know the names of the people making a splash in your industry (perhaps, as a thought leader, you’ll be one of them!).

Your professional network is also a great resource to tap. Discuss the trends taking place in the field and share your thoughts. Don’t jump on every bandwagon that comes along, but, when a trend seems to really be taking hold, embrace it and share your experiences.

7. Never Stop Learning

This one almost goes without saying and is, in fact, embedded in each of the above strategies. Your absolute best bet for expertise is to always keep an open mind and absorb new information. Read books and blogs, take classes online and in-person, let your expertise spawn from the expertise of others. The more you learn, the more you fill your professional toolbox.

Remember: Experts proudly claim their expertise; they don’t shy away from it.

So let me ask you: Are you an expert? How did you get there? Please share in the comments!

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Why Sharing Credit at Work Is Good For Your Career

I talk a lot about how to advocate for yourself, be loud and proud of all you do, and take credit for your work even when others are trying to steal the spotlight.

But today, I want to turn that around and talk about the other side of the coin: sharing credit with others.

It’s an overlooked, but equally important part of your career success.

A true professional knows that, whenever you experience a great achievement at work, you should be vocal about it! Tell your superiors exactly what you did and how you accomplished it. But, when others are involved, be sure to share credit where it’s rightfully due.

All too often, we get caught up in self-promotion at work—a great tool for building a strong professional reputation—but it’s not a “zero sum” game: For me to “win” doesn’t mean anyone else has to “lose.” In fact, when I help others enjoy a win, I also help myself. Here’s how it works.

You Show You’re a Team Player

Talking up the value and contributions of your teammates shows that you recognize the power of collaboration—and you’re good at it! Speak about what “we” accomplished (not what “I” accomplished) and you’ll become known as a smart person to partner with. Be a shining example of teamwork and people will seek you out.

You Prove Your Confidence

Talking about the great work of others shows you’re not insecure. You have confidence in your own role and the value of your own contributions, so you’re not afraid of letting someone else have their moment of glory too.

Your Demonstrate Leadership

Acknowledging others is a key trait of great managers. When you do so, regardless of your title or position, it shows you have leadership abilities. You gain a reputation as more than just a hard worker; you become seen as someone capable of bringing out the great work in others.

Your Teammates Will Remember

People love to be acknowledged and it just doesn’t happen enough these days. Whether it comes from the CEO or a peer in the next cubicle over, it makes you feel seen and appreciated. People don’t forget that. Plus, it can have a real impact on how their colleagues see them and treat them. While it’s our responsibility to self-promote, it’s awfully nice when others provide some supportive reinforcement.

Above all else, it just feels good to recognize the people around you. It feels honest because it IS honest. Very few victories we experience at work happen without assistance from others. It takes a little extra effort to give an authentic shout-out to your well-deserving teammates, but it’s worth it—for you and for them.

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Personal Updates, Reflections and Looking To The Future

Well, friends, let me start this blog post by saying one thing: I’m still alive!

I know, I know. It’s been…like…forever.

Or more accurately, it’s been almost a year. A YEAR! I can hardly believe it. And yet, I can believe it because so much has happened.

Here’s a quick overview of what’s been going on (and then I promise I’ll get into the details):

  • I endured a painful (though ultimately incredibly necessary) break up
  • I sank into the darkest depression of my life—so deep, I was terrified I might not recover
  • I recovered
  • I released a handful of people and habits that no longer served me
  • I embraced a handful of people and habits that serve me in a way I never knew possible
  • I took my own advice and evaluated my career path…and decided it was time for a change
  • I started a full time engagement as a corporate trainer
  • I was promoted from corporate trainer to program lead in three months
  • I started a new, exciting relationship with the man of my dreams
  • I woke up one morning and thought, “Wow. I’m alive. Probably more alive than I’ve ever been…if such a thing is possible. And I’m so, so grateful.”

In short—it’s been the best of times and the worst of times. Looking back on 2014, I see that old adage is true: “This too shall pass.” Everything—the good, the bad, and the downright ugly—everything is temporary.

Things change and thank God they do. I never would have guessed this time last year that things would change this much, but that’s the beauty of life. Not knowing where you’ll land. And at some point, just learning to trust that wherever it is, you’ll land on your feet.

In truth, my list above offers only a shallow look at what has been, essentially, a dramatic (and at times traumatic) transition in my life and career. Beneath these highlights and lowlights, there were many, many hours spent wallowing in personal reflection, fear, anxiety, confusion, self-pity and indecisiveness. To share it all here would be impossible, but I will address some of the key things you may be wondering.

First, let’s talk work.

I started this business in 2009 and truly loved every minute of it for the first two years. I was absolutely inspired and overwhelmed with excitement for the opportunities that lay ahead.

However, when I moved to Denver in 2011, something slowly began to shift. You see, I’m not exactly the type of person who is naturally cut out for self-employment. Sure, I have a million great ideas (SQUIRREL!). I love being my own boss and making my own schedule. And I truly love my work.

But there’s a whole lot more to it than that. Things like taxes and bookkeeping and selling. (It makes my head hurt to think of it all.) And at some point, all of those things I used to love—the ideas, the flexible schedule, and even the work—those things became double-edged swords. I had too many ideas and not enough time or money to invest in making them happen. I missed not having an office and a steady schedule. I missed doing the work I loved, because the work that paid the bills always got priority.

I’ll write more about my self-employment experience in the future I’m sure, but for now, let me just say this: I worked very, very hard in my business. I believe I probably could have worked even harder—toward the end I certainly slacked—but I just wasn’t willing to do what it would take to keep it alive. I had a great level of success with it, with television appearances and exciting speaking gigs and more, and I’m absolutely thrilled that I had the experience. I could, quite possibly, jump back into it again in the future. I would definitely do things differently if so—and it won’t be tomorrow—but for now, I’m confident in my decision to make this change.

The decision came sometime around April of last year (2013), after many months of painstaking reflection. Once the decision was made, however, I sat on it for about two months, determined not to be hasty.

In June, I started aggressively job searching. Again, I took my own advice and activated my professional network. My very first official interview resulted in a job offer, which I declined (with great anxiety!). It wasn’t a perfect fit, and I wasn’t willing to settle.

By early July, I was submitting resumes through online job boards sporadically but still relying on my network to create the kinds of connections I thought I would need to get a real foot in any door.

Surprise, surprise—the ideal position came from an early morning resume submission through Indeed.com. The job looked absolutely ideal. So good, in fact, I thought I was missing something. An hour after hitting “send” on my application, I got an email asking me to come in that day for an interview. A week later, I was asked to present a short training as a means of “auditioning” for the job. Two days after that, I had an offer.

When the stars align, things just click.

I am firm believer that the right things come along at the right time. And when they’re right, you know it.

I had no hesitation whatsoever about accepting this position and I haven’t regretted it for even a day.

I was hired as a corporate trainer. My role was to design and deliver training courses for internal staff at my new company. (Yep, this is the part of my business I loved that I didn’t get to do enough.)

Three months later, I was promoted to Program Lead. I now create and oversee our entire Personal & Professional Development Learning Program for the company, which currently consists of 5 individual, ongoing projects.

When it’s right, it just clicks.

So that’s it for the work update (for now). Let’s move on to the personal stuff…a far more difficult update to put on paper.

I’m not one for airing my dirty laundry, so I’ll be somewhat vague while still hopefully satisfying your curiosity.

I’ve suffered from depression for the majority of my life from the age of about 14. I’ve experienced several major episodes over the years, and this past year was probably one of the worst. When I say “major”, it’s no joke. If you haven’t ever experienced such a thing, imagine this:

Waking up in the morning and wishing you hadn’t…like really. 

Crying yourself to sleep in the middle of the day.

A sense of dread washing over you when you realize there’s no food in the house, and that means you have to get dressed and go outside and be around people.

Believing nothing will ever feel good, taste good, sound good, or look good again.

Knowing you’re hurting your friends and family by pushing them away, but being unable to stop yourself.

Worrying that life as you know it has permanently shifted, and this new life just might not be worth the effort.

I’m sure this isn’t easy to read. It’s no picnic to write either. I’m not ashamed of how I felt, but it does feel strange to share it so openly here.

Still, I can’t ignore this part of what happened this past year. It matters, because it changed.

That worry I had—that the pain was permanent—that was my disease talking. It’s not the truth.

I don’t know what happened exactly, but something sparked me into action. I think I just scared myself so much, I could no longer pretend what was happening was normal or acceptable.

I shifted into action at that point. And this, my friends, is what I know: Action is the key to change. You can’t think yourself into a better place. You just have to take action. Doing the right things—talking to people, changing your habits, asking for help, being decisive, facing your fears—these are the things that shift your thinking. You just have to wake up in the morning and do it, even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to.

I’m proud of where I’ve been and where I landed. And today, I’m excited for the future.

So let’s talk about that, shall we? Where do we go from here?

This website is my baby. I’ve nurtured it from infancy, and many of you have witnessed its growth through the years. I can no more abandon it than I could a real child. I’ve taken a long, re-energizing break, and I’m ready to re-commit to it.

So, here’s the plan: I have over 250 articles in the archives on this website. Those are a permanent resource for you here.

My passion project now—the thing that really gets my wheels turning—is writing a real, in-print, full-length book. In the meantime, I’m going to continue writing about personal and professional development topics (with my own unique spin of course) regularly for you here. This blog feeds my creativity and keeps me connected to all of you, my dear like-minded fellow professionals. I hope that when my passion project is complete, you’ll want to read it.

I also still have a few (okay…MANY) ideas I’d like to continue playing around with. I truly love personal and professional development and I love helping others explore the same topics that excite me. I also love the freedom and autonomy that come with running your own business. So, while I’m currently on a break from it, who knows what the future holds. When it’s right, things just click. So we’ll see what clicks.

Finally, I’m still doing the occasional speaking and training event for corporate clients. So don’t hesitate to contact me with opportunities. I’m certainly not closing the door on anything. I’m merely following a new path to see where it leads. I hope you’ll choose to continue walking with me by visiting this blog.

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The Art of Conscious Compromise: Finding Your Perfection

I’ve been thinking a lot about compromise lately. Some people do it too much in life, others not enough. Over the past year, I compromised a lot to be with someone I thought I loved. If you asked him, he’d say he did the same. At some point, the question loomed: If all of this compromise is required, is this the right thing for either of us?

It’s a hard, gut-wrenching lesson to learn in romance, but it also applies to your career.

Compromise is indeed a requirement for successful relationships and successful careers. We can’t have everything our way 100% of the time. Holding out hope that you can is setting yourself up for a lot of pain. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice one thing to make other things possible. You give up a plan you had because the other person has a different one. You give up a ridiculously high salary because the job that actually makes you happy doesn’t pay as well as the one that makes you miserable.

It’s a matter of give and take, finding a middle ground where both sides still can be happy—where you’re able to say it’s a worthwhile exchange: By giving up this thing, I get this better thing.

Give up your plan, get love. Give up the salary, get job satisfaction.

It’s hard to know where that “perfect” point is though. You don’t always know the reality of what you’re giving up and what you’re getting and the true value of those things. You don’t always know what other options exist. You have to make choices without knowing if somewhere out there you really could, possibly, have it ALL. Your plan and love. The salary and job satisfaction. Or maybe just a version of life where you’re closer to having it all…

So here’s what I’ve learned about compromise, and it applies to love, career, anything.

Start by knowing what 100% looks like for you. What would your career/marriage/new home etc. be if you had 100% of what you want? Don’t hold back. Go big. Be bold. Define what you really, really want from this thing, whatever it is.

Then, as you survey your options—job prospects, eligible suitors, homes for sale—really ask yourself: What am I gaining and what am I giving up? And ask yourself if the trade is a win.

I call it Conscious Compromise. Too often, I think we compromise without consciously even knowing we’re doing it. We only realize in hindsight that we did, and usually when things aren’t working out, when we’re questioning our choices. At that point, the value of the thing we gave up seems enormous. And maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t.

Conscious Compromise doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly NOT want the thing you gave up. That ridiculously high salary? Yeah, it would still be nice. And you’ll miss it. But if you made the choice consciously—you weighed the gains and losses honestly—you won’t miss the thing you gave up as much. You’ll know it was deemed a reasonable price to pay for what you were getting in return. And yes, that could change. But at some point, you really did give it the thought it deserved.

Conscious Compromise also doesn’t mean you’ll make the perfect choices every time. You may still end up in a bad relationship, a job you hate, or a home that doesn’t really work for you. But that value question I mentioned earlier? The one in bold print? You’ll learn something about that. You’ll learn more about what you value. You’ll learn more about what you’re really willing to give up and what you’re not. And you’ll make different choices next time.

I don’t believe in perfect people or perfect jobs. But I’m still a romantic at heart. I do believe there is a perfect person for me, just like there’s one for you. In fact, there are probably many. And I do believe there’s a perfect job for me, just like there’s one for you—probably many.

By “perfect” I mean that the compromise doesn’t truly feel like compromise. It feels like winning. It feels like you lucked out. If feels like whatever that stupid thing was that you gave up…it never mattered to begin with.

If it sounds like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth here, I am. You really can’t have everything. But when the right thing comes along, you’ll have everything you need and then some. That’s the paradox that is life.

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How New Hires Can Make a Great First Impression

Congratulations! You got hired! Now the hard part starts.

The first 30 days on the job is a critical time for creating your professional reputation. Like it or not, first impressions are often lasting impressions. But most of us are so focused on learning the ropes, we forget to consider how others might be receiving us. So, how do you ensure you make a strong, professional first impression even as you ramp up to speed in your new gig?

This was the topic of my most recent interview on Fox 31 Denver’s Good Day Colorado. Watch the video below to get my hottest tips for how to get started on the right foot with your new employer and new colleagues from day 1.

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