Tuesday, June 10, 2008

An Expert Lesson from Dad

Five ways to become an expert in your field.

By Cambridge Who’s Who Member and Contributing Author Jo DeMarco

My father was a carpenter. I grew up constantly hearing friends, relatives and customers sing his praises for being the best in the business. My father frequently needed to inspect jobs or pick up payments in the evenings, and my brother, sister and I often went along with him. Those trips resulted in additional opportunities for us to hear favorable and appreciative raves about his workmanship. One day I asked my father if he was “an expert” carpenter. Surprisingly, he responded that he did not consider himself to be an expert carpenter. I was confused by his answer because I thought being an expert meant that you were the very best in your field and anyone I ever heard reference my father’s work had said that he was“the best.” Being the type of father who would perpetually provide us with the life lessons we would never learn in school, his explanation went like this:

    “No matter what you do in life give it your all, be the best you can possibly be and never tell yourself that you know everything there is to know about something. No matter how much you think you know always be willing to learn more, something new or a better way to do things. And remember to be humble. If you are fortunate enough to receive praise, politely acknowledge it and forget about it. Hanging onto praise is walking a path to arrogance, and that will surface in the work you do. If you keep your mouth shut and your ears open you will learn more and far surpass any goals you have laid out for yourself. Every piece of work that you do tells people who you are and becomes your reputation, your signature. You are the only one who can ensure that your signature is honorable, consistent and that it stands for something worthwhile and reputable.”
Of all the things my father taught me over the years, this advice has had the greatest impact on my professional life. With that in mind, allow me to make a few points on how to become an expert in your field:
  • Be the best you can be: Choose a field or career that you are very interested in, enjoy being a part of and are passionate about. You cannot be “the best” if your heart is not in it. Be honest with yourself if you have not done everything you possibly can to gain a high level of knowledge in your field. You might be able to fool yourself, but not others for very long. Lie to yourself about the extent of your knowledge, and the truth will show up in your work.

  • Act the part: Being an expert is not only about having the highest degree of knowledge in a particular area, but it also involves the way that you conduct yourself. Your personal appearance, attitude, communication skills and compassion for others are equally as important.

  • Create your signature: Your work ethic is your signature. Excellent skills, attention to detail and reliability will certainly put you on the right path. Have the courage to “color outside the lines” once in awhile and these key attributes will support you in doing so.

  • Stay humble: Sure, we all love the accolades, awards and recognition. It is human nature to want that pat on the back and somewhat necessary when we know that we have put our heart into something in order to keep it going. Just remember not to let it go to your head.

  • If you have to say it, it is not so: Anyone who goes around tooting their own horn will be called many things, but an expert most likely will never be one of them!
Moreover, if you can look yourself in the mirror and honestly tell yourself that you have done everything possible to be the very best that you can be then that should be all you need. Thanks for teaching and showing me that, Dad!

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