Expertish

Max is not an expert in many things. I’d put the following on his expertise list: sleeping, eating whatever is in front of him, and looking cute.

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He definitely does not have expertise in obeying me, in tracking smells, in chasing down smaller animals, or even in playing in the dog park.

Of course, maybe expertise in the dog park should not be defined by playing with other dogs. Maybe he is an expert of looking super cool and caj, like that guy at the gym who is no expert in actually building muscle or lifting weights, but is definitely an expert at looking impressive and drawing attention to himself.

So, first Max has taught me that expertise is somewhat arbitrary. In some situations, what actually qualifies as the expert expression of something may not be objective.

But Max has taught me many other things about expertise.

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He has also taught me that having a natural inclination to something does not make one an expert. Max clearly has a natural inclination to chasing rabbits. But I don’t let him, so he has no idea how to actually do that with effective results.

And he has taught me that having all the tools or resources necessary does not make one an expert. Max has an acute sense of smell, much better than mine. Though he thinks he can find vague trails where other animals have gone, he is in no way an expert sniffer. I would not trust him to actually retrieve any animal from a hunt, and he does not even come close to having the skills of a drug dog. He simply hasn’t been trained to use the tools he has, and even if he was, there’s no guarantee he’d be an expert just because he has a dog’s nose.

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But, perhaps the most significant lesson Max has taught me about expertise is that it is not nearly as valuable as being expertish.

Max has taught me that life is much more interesting, meaningful, mysterious, and exciting when one approaches it through an expertish perspective rather than thinking one has expertise. Expertise limits, it makes me think I have it all figured out and that I know all there is to know about my field. It leads to mild or intense arrogance and pride and does not leave room for continual learning and exploration.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love knowing a lot about my profession and interests. But I recognize that when I think of my understanding as expertise, I put myself against or over other people who have not spent as much time studying whatever it is. And then I have a much harder time learning the valuable lessons they can teach me from their unique perspective. For instance, over the past three years I have worked with middle and high school students. I think it is safe to say I know more than them – I have a certain level of expertise that they do not. But at my best, I think of my own knowledge as expertish and then I learn incredible things from them.

I am also aware that if I went in for major surgery, I would want an accomplished, expert surgeon. But, I think even there I would want a surgeon with expertish rather than expertise, someone who would be open to what a nurse or assistant could see that the surgeon could not.

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Max has taught me the value of embodying expertish rather than expertise. He has taught me the value of being humble and realizing there is always more I can learn, and there is especially much I can learn from people very different from me. He has taught me that in being expertish, I will position myself to encounter the mystery and wonder of this world more fully, rather than trying to make sure I have it all figured out. Max has taught me that being expertish is not a position of weakness or less adequacy, but rather a position of full potential that is powerful in its openness, flexibility, and creativity.

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Because Max is not an expert at many things, but he has a certain expertish that profoundly connects him to the mystery and wonder of this world.

So, thank you Max for teaching me the value of expertish. Thank you for teaching me the limits of thinking I have it all figured out in expertise, and showing me how to engage the mystery of the world through the openness of expertish.

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