There’s an episode of Scrubs where they pay homage to The Wizard of Oz called My Way Home. Scrubs is actually a really funny and under appreciated show, if a little uneven in quality at points, and this episode is particularly good. One quarter of the plot deals with one of the doctors, Elliot, symbolically the scarecrow, searching for brains.
Elliot has been over-exaggerating her knowledge of endocrinology because she enjoys being seen as an expert in it. In reality, she actually doesn’t know that much about it, she just has notes hidden all over the hospital and in her lab coat so that she can quickly look up the answers as needed. When the head of the hospital asks her to conduct a seminar for a room full of endocrinology specialists, she panics. She studies like mad to try to be ready for the talk and is just about ready to admit she isn’t really a specialist on this topic at all when her roommate, J.D., who’s been helping her study says:
Look, Elliot, you know how people become specialists? They obsess about the material over and over again until it becomes lodged into their brains. That’s exactly what you’ve been doing.
And he quizzes her on some random endocrinology facts and, lo, she knows them right off the top of her head. She realizes that she has actually become an expert on the topic after all. She aces the seminar.
I think about this scene a lot even though I haven’t seen it since it aired in 2006. Because there’s a lot of things I would hesitate to call myself in expert in even though I’ve spent hours researching and obsessing over them because I have it in my head that an expert is someone somehow official and I’m just someone who happens to know a lot about that topic.
I try to keep this little moment in my head because it’s a great reminder that the only different between someone who knows a lot about a subject and an expert or specialist is ego. You have to be pretty darn confident (or delusional, which is a topic for another time) to refer to yourself as an expert in something. A label like that usually comes with some kind of external endorsement, such as a degree, certification or being dubbed it by a respected external source, doesn’t it? Trust me, not everyone is playing by those rules. You don’t need any official proclamation to prove you’re an expert in your niche other than having the knowledge to back it up.
For a lot of us, when we think we’re being modest, we’re actually just selling ourselves short. Own your hard earned knowledge.