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Why Being An “Expert” Can Kill Your Happiness and Wealth

A couple of years ago, I heard a fascinating podcast discussion – between Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff and Robbie Savage. 2 quick background points, in case you’re not British…

  • Flintoff was probably one of the best all-round cricketers to ever play for England
  • Savage was a reasonably decent footballer. He had an admirable career and went far, but would never be considered ‘great.’

What made the difference?

Flintoff is down-to-earth and modest. Savage had to probe for answers. As he did, they discovered a major difference between them was their attitude towards criticism.

“I love criticism,” Flintoff said. “Absolutely love it. Because every time I’m criticised, I’m shown a new way to improve.”

Savage had to admit, he did not love criticism. He shied away from it. Is this what made the difference?

You’ve probably heard this sort of advice in the past…

You’ve heard sayings like, “Failure is the mother of success.”

But have you ever found a way to make this a part of your character?

I’ll admit, I spent over 10 years in my career before I started taking this relaxed attitude towards life. I was in a hurry. In my 20s, I believed I had to be a raging success by age 30.

When you’re feeling rushed, criticism isn’t helpful; it’s an obstacle in your way.

Finally, I reached age 30. I immediately started to relax, and decided to become a lifelong student of the things I wanted to achieve.

Nowadays, being a “student” doesn’t sound too trendy

If you want to get ahead, you need to be seen as an “authority” and an “expert.”

I don’t want to rage against these ideas. They have merit.

But I think when you’re striving to be seen as an expert, you can seriously hinder your own growth. People are always asking, “When can I be seen as an expert?”

Why not let go of that worry?

Why not tell yourself, “I’m not an expert and I never will be. I’m a lifelong student.”

This makes you open and humble, willing to learn more. It takes you on the path to greatness.

A lot of gurus will tell you: “You’re an expert if you know more than the people you’re teaching.”

Personally, I think this is horrible advice.

If you’ve mastered anything in life, you’ll know that crucial groundwork can be skipped.

Even if you “know more” than a complete beginner, you could be further behind.

Musical instruments are a perfect example of this.

Ever since my early teens I’ve played guitar. I was self-taught and reached a level where I was, objectively, very good. I could jump into jam sessions and play Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan. I took a lot of inspiration from my jazz heroes – like Wes Montgomery and Thelonious Monk.

You could say I was an expert.

But I wasn’t.

Not even close.

My playing hit a ceiling. I couldn’t advance any further. In my late 20s, I switched to classical. I started to learn the instrument properly, putting in the necessary groundwork.

I had to relearn the guitar, drilling in all the right habits – the hand positions, posture and breathing.

Realising I was a guitar noob was probably one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. It changed my thinking.

For the first time in my life, I was happy to be a student. I wasn’t clawing at my “Expert” status, desperate for validation. I finally understood what Freddie Flintoff was saying.

This attitude of being a student spread to every other aspect of my life. Even as a copywriter, I call myself a student. And I study for at least 30 minutes every day.

You won’t always have a humbling experience like I did. But if you’re the sort who avoids criticism, you can start developing this attitude for yourself. I have 3 suggestions:

  1. Drill yourself on the fundamentals: Whatever you’re studying, there should be 3 essential books, 3 essential teachings, and 3 essential daily practices. Find out what they are, and study them like crazy.
  2. Set your daily practice: This should be at least 30 minutes a day. I also suggest practicing something that you treat purely as a hobby. I don’t have any dreams to play guitar as a career. No Carnegie Hall ambitions. This makes it easier to practice being a student. You can carry this attitude over to your career – or whatever else you’re doing.
  3. Lean into criticism. Ignore your emotions: Sometimes your inner-expert will spring up and make you afraid. He’ll say, “I’m scared to put you up for criticism like this.” Just tell your inner-expert to shut up and do it anyway.

One quick point. If you are putting something up for criticism – a piece of writing, a performance, whatever it might be – I suggest using paid groups.

Stay away from free forums and social media groups.

I don’t want to sound like a snob, but it’s patently true that paid groups have better quality people, and better quality criticism.

I have never been trolled or made to feel crap about myself in a paid group. Yet this always happens on social media.

Spend your time in the right places.