I have been thinking a lot about experts, or at least the concept of being one. Countless people have built their businesses on that alone. Whether in the manufacturing, services or professional sectors, ‘experts’ are in high demand. Think about it. Would you go and see a heart surgeon who wasn’t an expert in her field? What about driving a car that didn’t have expertly designed and manufactured brakes? Would you bring in an HR consultant to do an employee retention assessment, if his only expertise was in redundancy packages? My guess is that you would not want any part of these products or people if you weren’t confident that they had the mastery over their field that your needs dictated.
So what is an expert? More specifically, what makes someone an expert? I was thinking about this as it applied to me personally, and I actually became worried. Am I an expert in anything? If so what, I wondered? I have a degree in History, but I could hardly call myself an expert in History. There are academics who spend their entire lives studying The Hundred Years War or The French Revolution. Although I could admit some knowledge of both events, I hardly have the same depth of knowledge as a scholar devoted to understanding these moments in history. Put this way, what makes an expert becomes clear. An expert is someone who has studied something so much that he has a profound understanding of it.
Much like the heart surgeon who is the best in her field, she has earned her expert distinction due to countless hours of studying physiology, untold hours in the operating theatre and many hours observing patients post-operatively. She has accumulated such an amount of experience and knowledge that she can make informed decisions on most instances. She has an arsenal of ideas and techniques that she can apply to any given situation in her department.
This revelation gives me hope because it means that anyone, including myself, can become an expert by taking the time to learn and practice a subject. What I find when doing Virtual Assistant work, is that I am learning and adapting constantly to the client’s needs. I could perhaps say that I am an expert in Client Adaptation or Learning On My Feet or just Learning in general.
When I worked as an EA in London, my bosses spent their day asking me to do things and I spent my day doing them or figuring out how to do them. I remember one hilarious instance when my boss came up to me and asked me to change a travel arrangement for him. This would be the simplest of tasks except that it wasn’t his travel arrangement, it was his associates who was flying from the US to the Middle East with a stopover in London. My boss wanted to meet with him during that stopover, but his current flight schedule wasn’t conducive to this, thus the request.
My boss had suggested a few different flight options, so I got to work checking out the best combinations. I then called our travel agent and asked him to arrange it. He told me that he couldn’t help me whatsoever, because the traveller himself would have to make such changes. I thanked him and hung up. Undeterred, I dialed the number of the airline and spoke to a representative. I cannot remember what I said or how I said it, but after a 20 minute phone call, I had the traveller on different connections that would allow he and my boss time together. I triumphantly gave my boss the new information and he said that he would contact his associate immediately.
I relaxed and rejoiced in the knowledge that I had succeeded in my task. I continued my day until my boss came to me with a perturb look on his face. Apparently, his friend had three mobiles: one for the US, one for Europe, and one for the Middle East. My boss had left a message on the European and Middle Eastern ones, but not on the US one. His friend had never gotten the message and had turned up at the airport expecting his same itinerary. When he had discovered the changes, he was livid and expressed himself rather passionately, shall we say, at the check-in counter. By the time all was said and done, he had rebooked himself back on his original flights! My boss now wanted me to undo what his associate had done, after I had done it in the first place…
Still undeterred, I called the airline and spoke to another representative. Again, I cannot remember what I said, but I said a lot of which was totally ineffective, until I resorted to the final tool in my EA arsenal: crying. I remember crying to the woman on the other end:
“I know that this is crazy! I know that the passenger got a little excited at the counter, but there was just a miscommunication between him and my boss, and I really need these two men to meet up in London!”
I finished with: “It’s Friday night and I just want to go home and eat a pizza!”
Eat a pizza? I have no idea where I came up with that, but the lady on the other end must have liked pizza, because she told me to hang on a minute, put me on hold and when she came back on, had put everything back to how we wanted it. Whew!
Was I lucky? Was I skilled? Was I an expert in: Speaking to Airline Call Centre Representatives? Actually, I think that I was an expert in two things, one of which I have already mentioned: Learning, and additionally, Tenacity. I think that any expert shares these two traits. One does not become an expert by sitting on the couch watching TV, unless they are a TV critic. One becomes an expert by doing, learning and experiencing.
By this measure then, I definitely feel that I am an expert in Serving Peoples’ Needs. Be it simple data entry, complex web design, writing blogs or changing a stranger’s flight schedule, I will do something, learn from it, and experience success at its completion. Maybe other people can call themselves experts in one specific thing, but upon reflection I realise that for me and my business, being an under-construction Jill-Of-All-Trades is a plus and not a minus. Not being an expert in one thing allows you to develop competency in many things, as long as you have a tenacity to learn, and a love for pizza.