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personal branding

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!

Personal Branding Advice from Jerry Maguire

Whenever I’m explaining the concept of personal branding, I always end up talking about Jerry Maguire.

Yes, before Tom Cruise jumped on Oprah’s couch and became the perpetual butt of Hollywood’s joke, he starred in one of my all-time-ever favorite movies. He played the title role, Jerry Maguire, a sports agent who has a breakdown breakthrough that leads to him leaving his cushy job and heading out on his own. He takes with him a fish, a humble secretary, and one client, Cuba Gooding, Jr.

So, where does personal branding come in?

Well, the whole idea of personal branding started with a 1997 article in Fast Company. The author suggests that we (the American workforce) need to stop thinking of ourselves as employees; instead, we should think and act as free agents. And, as free agents, we need to brand ourselves, just like a company brands its products, in order to be competitive in an economy full of free agents, and ultimately, to be in the best bargaining position when we’re drafted.

This is essentially the backbone of the Jerry Maguire story. Jerry’s one client, a pro football player named Rod Tidwell (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.), decides to become a free agent but discovers he’s having a really hard time getting the contract he wants. As his agent, Jerry keeps telling him it’s a branding issue: the way Rod perceives himself doesn’t align with the way others in the business perceive him. And the value Rod feels he brings to the game doesn’t match up with what others see.

Jerry fights and fights, telling Rod that his attitude is hurting him and that people think the only thing he cares about is money. To those on the outside, Rod’s heart just isn’t in the game. So, essentially, Jerry tells him to fix his brand. He needs to be more authentic and show more of who he really is in order to be competitive.

This is a great lesson for everyone, regardless of your profession. Personal branding is all about authenticity and showing who you really are. You can’t fake it. When you put up a front, and want people to see things that aren’t really there, you come off as a fake and a phony. And no one wants to buy what you’re selling.

Rod finally did get the contract he wanted and deserved. But only because he let his true personality come through and people could finally see his love for the game. He stopped pretending.

Personal branding isn’t an intellectual exercise. You can’t pick your brand based on what you think others want and then create a persona to match. It’s about tapping into all the things that make you special and letting them shine. When you’re able to really do that, others will see your value as clearly as you do. And they’ll pay for YOU because you’re worth it.

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