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.”

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

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


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.

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.

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

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.

About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She writes about life, art, and the art of life.
This entry was posted in Art, blogging, Christian, Culture, Current Events, Daily Life, Education, Encouragement, Family, Growth, Humor, Job, Life, Lifestyle, Motherhood, News, Parenting, Personal, Relationships, success, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to What Does It Take to Be an Expert?

  1. Lori DiNardi says:

    Well, guess I’m not qualified for any of these things. I don’t have kids nor did I finish college to get my B.A. Your comment about teenagers made perfect common sense to me. Once I was playing with my niece who found it delightful to smack me several times in a row. I told her that if she kept hitting me I wasn’t going to play with her anymore. She hit me again, so I followed through and walked away from our playtime together. She went crying to her mother, my sister-in-law, who asked what I did to her daughter. When I told her the scenario, she said, “Don’t you ever say you won’t play with her. If she hits you, you hit her back.” Huh? Hit her back? I’m no expert, but I will not have a “hitting fight” with a three-year-old. My sister-in-law promptly told me I knew nothing about kids and how to handle them. Experts aren’t always needed, and even the mother of a three-year-old isn’t necessarily an expert on three-year-old’s. Sometimes it just takes a little common sense. Unfortunately, we have very little of that in today’s world.

    • Lori: you showed great common sense, which, in the end, is the best teacher of them all.

      It is remarkably easy to get in an argument with a three-year-old:

      “Stop that.”


      “Because it hurts.”


      “It just does.”


      It takes awhile to realize you’re reasoning with someone who is not of your reasoning ability.

      And you are right — sometimes even the mom isn’t the expert. It’s just that, usually, she knows a little more than the people with all those letters are willing to admit.

  2. tom weinkle says:

    great post. So true. My auto mechanic is a EE by training. but his ability to fix my antique car is based on experience and his interest in understanding a german engineered mechanical fuel injection design phased out in the 60s. lucky me.


  3. tom weinkle says:

    One more thought: As an artist, I see workshop after workshop offering to teach people how to paint like the masters. According to these credentialed experts, it is a matter of learning a step by step process. Sure, the paintings are technically great, but lack that special something that transcend the technical.

    Embedding emotion, and sensitivity, and imagination and even using common sense, cannot be distilled down to a simple step by step process…no matter how many letters of authorization you have after your name.

    • Tom, I agree with you. I spent the morning reviewing assorted art-specific magazines, and I was amazed at the number of ads, and articles, promoting “The Secret to This” and the “Fail Safe Method for That.” As you know from my articles in Fine Art Views, I really don’t like magic bullets, not only because they rarely work, but because they bring up people’s hopes to unrealistic levels, and promise things that they really can’t deliver. That combination is cruelly wrong, and the only person who benefits from it is the one making the promises, and collecting the income from the book or workshop.

      As you say, embedding emotion, sensitivity, imagination and using common sense are not elements that can be achieved step by step. They take skill, that’s a given — but once that skill is in place, they pull deep from the inner core of the artist, drawing out from the essence of who he is. That crucial aspect of the process is the most fragile one, and can be easily destroyed by the cavalier, “Do It my way attitude; I’m rich and successful, aren’t I?” attitude.

  4. Everyone should read this particularly those who equate a person’s worth with the number of letters after their name. MY wife taught me about what a book smart person is and what a street smart person is. My parents and older relatives taught me a lot of valuable lessons in life no school or books can provide. they share with me the “practical” ways to survive life. I remember before that we used to rely on our family doctor’s who amazingly seem to know everything about about our family medical history but today, we need to go to so many specialists because they have more letters after their name to answer our problems. Specialist’s who mostly don’t know who we are other than just another patient. I realized now that simplicity is way better and more meaningful than a complicated degree. thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you for your insight — and please, do pass me and my columns on via social media if you like what I have to say. I grow by word of mouth — and the major viral activity I have seen lately has been the colds the Toddler passed around to all of us!

      Interesting comment about medical specialists, and it makes so much sense. The Great Person, whose hourly wage exceeds what many people make in a day — sees you for 15 minutes or so, half of which is spent looking through the chart. What on earth could he or she know about your insights, your intuition and observations of they symptoms that you live with, the fears, the questions? The family doctor of yore, while he had far fewer letters, had far more insight into the lives of the people under his charge. People aren’t pages — you can’t reduce them to that.

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