When we want to brag about our wealth, we buy expensive items, lease cars, spend more than we earn. The problem arises when we do it merely to impress others—and even worse—people who don’t care.
When we want to brag about our social status, we show up in prestigious places and hang out with famous people. The problem arises when we become so considerate about our status that we stop expressing our authentic selves.
When we want to brag about our knowledge, we are pushy in explaining how things work. The problem arises when we explain something that we don’t know how it actually works and, even worse, explain it to people who don’t want to listen.
Here I propose another category of braggers called beginner-experts who brag about the amount of hard work they’ve put in learning something.
It’s natural to expect gratification for our hard work; therefore, we feel the temptation to show off our newly acquired knowledge. Yet, merely reading a book, completing a course, finishing a bootcamp, or even graduating college, doesn’t make you an expert.
Beginner-expert is a pejorative term for someone who has invested a significant amount of time in a relatively short period to learn something.
You might be an expert in some field, but if you share some complex idea to:
- a beginner, he will be confused and ask for clarification;
- another expert, she will give you constructive feedback;
- the beginner-expert, he will say that you are overcomplicating.
Likewise questions; if you ask a “stupid question” to an expert, she will consider if understood it correctly, elaborate on it, tell about history, reasons for that, and propose alternatives. Asking the same question to the beginner-expert would result in a snarky answer or contemptuous smile.
How to distinguish true experts from beginner-experts is by observing their opinions and reactions to novelty.
Beginner-experts have the most radical opinions, are fan-boys of one option, one party, one technology, one company—such attitude relieves them from studying other options. They explain simple problems in a complicated way, merely to impress others with the complexity of the challenges they face.
True experts, on the other hand, know the pros and cons of every option. They have their opinions but spread them carefully. They can explain complex subjects to everyone by breaking down problems into simple ones and connecting them using intuitive metaphors.
Don’t allow humiliating you by beginner-experts. But don’t critique them—if you consider yourself an expert, chances are you (at some point) were beginner-expert as well. You may be a beginner-expert at some subject right now. The most frequent areas are where you hard-worked for a relatively short period. Yet, the threshold of calling something “hard work” increases with the amount of work you’ve put in—the farther into the forest, the more trees you see.
Becoming an expert in any field is a great lesson of humility. Experts know how hard it is to become an expert. Experts know that many topics are more complex than others may think.
Before you propose any change, make sure you understand the existing state of affairs. Study Chesterton’s fence — before thinking you know better. However, beware of Dunning-Kruger bias, causing actual experts underestimate their abilities.