What Does It Take to Be an Expert?

I have no letters after my name.

Okay, officially I have a B.A., which in today’s climate stands less for Bachelor of Arts as it does for Buy Additional — credits, tuition, college time — leading to more letters (like M.A. or PhD)  if you actually want to get a job in the field. I think the B.A. might qualify me to work at a fast food restaurant, but since the degree was in English and not mathematics, I’m not officially educated to run the cash register.

You don't have to be an English major in order to read a lot. You don't even have to be a college student. The letters in the book are more important than the letters behind your name. Provincial Afternoon by Steve Henderson

In a society that equates letters after one’s name with expertise in the subject, I am constantly reminded of my lack of credentials and subsequent inability to  express my opinion on anything  other than the train dream sequence in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, and whether or not this represents the loss of the heroine’s virginity. (Do you care? I don’t.)

If only I had taken a different path and spent a little longer listening to bored, ready-to-retire-tenured-professors reading from 10-year-old notes, I could have earned enough letters after my name to officially enable me to say something about raising kids.

For awhile, I wrote for one of those ShallowInformationPresentedInListForm.Com sites — you know, the ones that pay 2 cents or so for every thousand hits — and an especially enthusiastic editor continued to send back an article I had written about communicating with teenagers. Having lived through two and currently working through two more, I figured I had some experience in this area.

She didn’t see it this way, critiquing me for making generalized statements like,

“They don’t need you to be their buddy. But neither do they want you to be the authoritarian figure you were when they were two.”

According to the editor, I was unqualified to make this statement. However,  “If an expert says it, that is different.”

Teenagers: seeking and finding their path in life, and what better companions than parents? Catching the Breeze by Steve Henderson


Years ago, when Eldest Supreme was a newborn trying to figure out breastfeeding from a woman whose only experience with milk was that it came in plastic jugs or waxed cartons, I turned to the experts. This is what I found:

1)  A 60-year-old male pediatrician who recommended that I “stick the baby in her bassinet in the backroom, shut the door,  and get on with your life. She’s not nursing? Give her a bottle. You’re just no good at producing milk.”

2) A 22-year-old unmarried, childless, sibling-free health department social worker with a master’s in early childhood nutrition. “It looks like you just can’t produce proper breast milk. Half of today’s women have this issue. You’ll have to use formula.”

Fortunately, a friend of mine introduced me to an actual expert, a woman with eight children who had breast fed each and every one of them. Because she was just a mom who stayed home and didn’t really do anything and  had no proper education in anything regarding children other than actually raising them, she had no letters after her name.

The best resource to find out about being a mother is generally . . . a mother. Madonna and Toddler by Steve Henderson

She did have good advice, though.

Within 24-hours I had a happy, full-of-breast-milk (mine!) baby that contentedly suckled (isn’t that a quaint word?) for two-and-a-half years. Three more breast-milk-sated babies followed.

Sometimes, the experts are valuable. The auto mechanic comes to mind, and I do like my ophthalmologist.  But other times it helps to remember that letters after a name are just that — letters — and they are not necessarily accompanied by a true interest in the field, a voracious desire to read and keep up with research, or, most significantly, common sense.

That latter is one we can all cultivate, regardless of our educational path. It seems to be missing these days.

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2 Responses to “What Does It Take to Be an Expert?”

  1. Daniel Langehaug says:

    So true. I have found that the best advice in life is usually given by people who aren’t suppose to know anything.

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