For most of my life, I had wanted to be an expert. I wanted to be looked up upon for specific knowledge or intelligence, or smarts in some area. There were of course, some areas I was more keen on than others. And as I read more, and gravitate towards specific topics, I wanted more and more to be known as an expert in those subject matters. The problem is that I was curious about many other things as well; in things I would not consider myself expert in (yet).
So then my knowledge starts to broaden, and I get to know a lot more about a variety of things. And I begin to see patterns across the domains. And I begin to think of expertise less like a deep hole, and more like a network of connections across disparate bits of knowledge that others might not recognise as fitting together but you, as the expert, can see it. Precisely because of the lots of learning you had to get there – not by hoarding knowledge but by eventually seeing patterns in the knowledge you acquire.
And then you begin to belittle dense knowledge in any single field or narrow buckets of knowledge that serve specific and narrow purposes. You no longer think that an expert is worth becoming; if you were an expert in just one or a few areas, you are losing out so much more of reality worth exploring. Maybe I just need to be reminded that I never was keen on being an expert, just pursuing wisdom more than mere knowledge. And wisdom is truly a more worthwhile pursuit.
I was put in a system where we were regularly assessed relative to our cohort, made to feel anxious about our position amongst our peers, and put in an artificial environment where we were taught to improve through ‘healthy competition’.
The society’s definition of healthy competition does get out of hand. Guardian recently ran a piece commenting on the number of ‘Forbes 30 Under 30’ featured people who landed in jail or at least trouble with the law.
It’s not just that competition gets out of hand but a question of what kind of values we are sending young people into the society with. Beyond the glamorization of the ideas around hustling and ‘faking it till you make it‘, there is clearly a lack of clear direction on the moral boundaries that should govern the claims made by companies to get ahead in terms of creating investor interest, or customer demand. Is it not time we draw a line, and re-align definition of success with actual activities that will move society and the world forward?
I took some time on Christmas eve listening to the latest podcast episode of People I Mostly Admire and it was a lovely conversation between Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt. Over the past few years I’ve really enjoyed the podcast on Freakonomics radio and it’s impressive the amount of quality educational content that has come out of it.
One of the interesting ideas introduced in this episode was raised by Dubner on how one’s choice could be one’s talent. It turns out to be something incredibly important, especially in the Asian context where there’s a highly competitive environment and one could be surrounded by lots of highly talented people. I have in fact talked about how talents cannot possibly be born, but rather, the market recognises some kind of value for it which encourages and incentivise effort that enhances it. For most of us, we could perhaps fare really well by recognising that our choices can propel us in life. Thinking through our strengths and then making the choices to push ourselves into roles where we can leverage our talents works for more people than we realise.
The approach isn’t so much about sticking it through than to define some kind of exploration phase, development phase and pivoting phases where one identifies sets of strength and abilities, then consider the roles, value-creation, and gradually make them work within the context or community they operate within. Each step involves choices. And continually making choices, even if they might be wrong, is the way to move forward, to improve and to keep on pushing towards a point worth going.