Skilled or Stupid?

There’s no honor in being stupid. True, we cannot all be genius inventors, scientists, artists, or other great figures. But that does not mean we shouldn’t try. Each of us has a responsibility to ourselves and to the world to become the best version of ourselves that we can be. There is an unnerving and surprisingly popular sentiment that it is somehow noble to be ignorant. Some people will brag about how little they read, how they only get their news from one source, or how they only consume entertainment and nothing else. This is not good.

Each of us has the capacity to become an expert in some area of life. Even if we have not been gifted by birth with the ability to understand complex ideas, each person has an aptitude to gain expertise in some area of life. There are many different types of intelligence and different kinds of aptitude. Some people are excellent at caring for children, others excel at decorating, while others excel at making sales. These kinds of intelligence are equally important and valid. Whatever our area in which we possess a certain aptitude, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to others to develop our skills to the best of our ability.

It is easy to struggle with the notion that, “I’m not good at anything.” Most of us have felt this way at one time or another. I have never met someone who is good at nothing.  I have, however, met quite a few people (myself included!) who have felt at times that they are not good enough at something. It is easy to feel this way when we are surrounded by others who know more than we do and have developed greater skills than we have done. We owe it to ourselves to realize three things about ourselves. First, each of us has at least one area in which we are intelligent and capable of becoming an expert. Second, that area is incredibly important. Third, we can get better.

Becoming an expert is not a small task. Those who pursue academic paths to expert status must first undertake an undergraduate degree (4 years), then perhaps a graduate degree (1-3 years), finally completing a doctoral degree (3-8 years, depending on the field). This process takes anywhere from 8-15 years, and results in a person who meets only the bare minimum requirements to be called an expert in a teeny sliver of knowledge! To truly become an expert requires further research and writing beyond the completion of a doctoral degree. A person can only be considered an academic expert if they continue to read and write in their area. Learning and growing never stops.

If other types of intelligence are equally valid then they deserve equal dedication. If it takes a minimum of 8 years to become an expert in an academic area, it seems reasonable to expect a similar amount of time to become an expert in photography, caring for children, resolving conflicts, cooking, designing websites, or anything else in which we might become expertly-competent. Being an expert takes hard work and dedication, but it is something that any of us are capable of becoming. And it is something worth pursuing.

Where do we go from here? First, we need to know ourselves well enough to know where our strengths lie. This can be a difficult task on its own. Luckily those who are closest to us can be helpful in identifying where our passions and strengths lie. Second, we need to identify the resources and path(s) necessary to become an expert. Books and classes are great, but experience in actually doing whatever we want to become an expert in is most important. Third, we need to work hard. Knowing our strengths and how to develop them, we must use the resources we have identified. Then we are well on our way to achieving expert status. It is likely that others will be better than us, even when we are finally able to claim the title of “expert.” This should not discourage us, but instead encourage us to learn more and to get better. Being an expert means that we are always learning and improving.

There is no honor in being stupid, but there is great honor in identifying our strengths and developing them until we reach expert status.

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