Why Nobody Likes to Call Themselves an Expert (& How I’m Getting Over It)

This past Saturday, I participated in A Day of Nothing, led by my friend (and future coach – yes, she’s that good in the empowerment/self-care/mindfulness realm) Kylie Bellard. It scared the pants off of me and excited me at the same time, which anyone who hangs around these parts knows that’s the combo I’m always looking for. I resisted and resisted until the very last day of sign-up, where I had to face the fact that I wanted – nay, needed! – to put my “work” on hold and give myself this scary/exciting day.

Ya see, for as long as I can remember, my Underlying Automatic Commitment (which is a fancy coaching term for our long-standing beliefs) has been that Busy = Successful. I feel powerful when I can answer, “How’s the business going?” with “So great! I have so much going on – a waitlist for coaching clients, a book deal, a new program…I can barely come up for air!” Coming out of my mouth, it’s strength and control and “success.” In my body and my head, it’s overwhelm and disconnection and scattered-ness. And while I know intellectually that it’s no longer what I want for myself, my actions and habits don’t match this need that I feel to Really Change.

Because of the space I had for my Day of Nothing and the boundaries I set for it (No email or social media + Anything I did that day had to be rooted in self-care + No planning), I got hit on the head with a great big realization:

 Since I started this business, I’ve been led. Of course, that’s not entirely true….I mean, obviously I’ve been in the leader in a lot of ways, but ultimately I’ve been so focused on making this business work that I’ve really only delivered what I’ve been asked to. All those Press opportunities that are on my About Me page? I can think of maybe 3 that I “pitched”, and the rest, well, came to me as I “simply” did my work and showed up. The 3 different group sessions that I run twice a year? One for those who don’t know what they wanna be when they grow up, the other for those who do know but need help on the How, and the last for those who are doing it but it’s not quite working? I created that when I figured out (in 2009, thanks to my first scholarship) those were the 3 reasons people came to work with me (or wanted to work with me)…and I scrambled to fill that need. The Declaration of You came from an email from Jess asking if I’d wanna work on something together.

Now, do not get me wrong. I was thinking the same thing about working with Jess, and she just happened to email me first. We’ve had a blast ever since we started brainstorming what we wanted to work on (back in 2010! or was it 2009?), and the fact that The Declaration of You will be a “real” book this summer is beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve loooooved working with every single one of my group coaching clients (really – that is not an overstatement), and I wouldn’t want to not work with any of those groups in the future (which ultimately makes me wanna be all-things-to-all-creatives-going-through-all-phases-of-career-transitions). The work that I’ve (co-)created and the people that work alongside me – my collaborators, my partners, my clients, my contractors – make me continually pinch myself.

But what I realized, thanks to my Day of Nothing? I’ve been hiding. Like every single person I’ve ever spoken to, the idea of establishing myself as An Expert makes me wanna throw up. So, I’ve shrunk away from it. Oh sure, I can share my experiences and I have things to say, but I’m a coach – I don’t wanna “give advice” or “tell anyone what to do”. Who am I to put myself in that spotlight? To step into that role? That belief has allowed me to just say Yes to things that interest/excite me that have been presented to me, to not make deliberate choices of what I feel is important to share and relay and “preach”.

After almost 3 years of being The When I Grow Up Coach full-time (and almost 5 years being in business), I’m ready to stake my claim. To share what I’ve gone through, to voice my opinion, to allow myself to believe that it’ll resonate with “my tribe” and will allow them to take their own action, find their own truth, steer their own ship.  And I won’t call it “being an expert”, because that still makes me wanna throw up. Instead, for me, it’s about inspiring. About connecting. About promoting optimism and forward movement and action. About making the belief that You Can Do What You Love As A Full-Fledged Grown-up one that actually appears doable to all of the creative souls out there who know what they need, but not what it looks like or how it can actually happen.

The silliest part? I live for the spotlight, the applause, the accolades. Although I yearn for it, I thought it was something to be ashamed of – not a worthy enough “value” for me, not in alignment with being a coach and serving others. But I think back on my days as a performer and, well, applause and laughter and accolades were the only currency I cared about. It still holds true for me, and I won’t disown it any longer.

What message do you want to share? What beliefs do you want to instill in yourself and others? What do you want to be known for? (And if you’re unsure, that’s OK….we all need time to figure it out. It’s taken me 5 years to articulate it in this way) I’ll be sharing more of my own message and ideas in the next few weeks (and months and years, knowing me), but until then…the comments are yours.

We can stake our claim together.




  1. says

    After reading this, I have one thing to say: You already are all of this whether you realize it or not.

    In my eyes, and I am sure others will agree with me, you embody “it’s about inspiring. About connecting. About promoting optimism and forward movement and action.” I have always considered you an “expert” and I know what you mean about the idea of that word making you want to throw up. It seems like a lot of responsibility, and almost (to me at least) begs for perfection, which adds even more pressure. The wonderful thing is, you are already there, and now it is just time to own it! I know in my life I have shyed away from opportunities which would have pegged me as an expert for the same reasons you have stated above. Thank you for this post, I think it is time that I too own what I know and do, and be the captain of my ship the SS Talents!

    • michelle says

      Thanks so much for reflecting that to me, Amanda. It makes me really relax and breathe a big sigh when I hear that I’m already inspiring/connecting & promoting optimism/forward movement/action. And it’s crazy because, in a way, I know that that’s what I’ve been doing all along. But to stake my claim? To say “This is why I’m here. This is what I believe. Here’s my message to share.”? Ooh whee, that’s where the shakes come in.

      And yes, you nailed the perfectionism pressure…I know if, instead, I focus on steering the ship and giving myself space (to explore, to create, to grow, to learn, to produce) it’ll all come together in a calm, lovely, abundance-ful way.

    • michelle says

      Thanks for the vote of confidence, Cindi. And not to sound like an egotistical jerk, but I do know that I’m seen that way…which made me feel even sillier for not being able to own it! Time to step into it, believe it, and embody it in a way that still makes me feel comfortable and coach-y…

  2. says

    I love the illustration!

    And I can so relate to this one. I’m so guilty of the “Busy = Successful” construct and I’m overbusy and overtired as a result.

    I also wrote a whole post about how I find it difficult to be referred to as an expert (http://www.leslieforman.com/2012/07/i-hate-expert/) and it inspired a lot of comments, some agreeing and some disagreeing.

    I’m a teacher, and I prefer to structure my lessons around questions like “What do you think about this example?” which sounds a lot like the questions you described above.

    I’m just starting to make my own positions more explicit. I’m starting to write more about my own experiences and what I think other people can gain from them.

    It’s a process.

    Thank you for helping me articulate this.

  3. Andi W says

    That’s funny, Michelle…I always think of you as an expert. I struggle daily with wanting to be authentic…and thinking that while I’m pretty good at a lot of stuff, there isn’t anything really all that unique or interesting about what I have to offer. I marvel at your you-ness, and it gives me hope that mine will come! :-)

    • michelle says

      Aw, thanks Andi. And it’s interesting you bring this up, because since I became The When I Grow Up Coach it was all about my me-ness, and I own my uniquity like nobody’s business (and lady, you have uniquity coming out your ears!)….but that didn’t translate into me being *an expert.* Sure, I could talk about what it means to me and how to start discovering it…but to be A Uniquity Expert? Blech!

      It’s amazing how many feelings boil down to semantics, ultimately.

  4. says

    This post could not have come at a better time for me. For too long I’ve equated doing massive amounts of things at once with success; so when I recently took a breather, I felt guilty and failed to see the success I had created.

    I absolutely love this idea of “staking one’s claim.” I think right about now is a good time to start! Thanks, Michelle.

    • michelle says

      Thanks for the solidarity, Caren! I’ve been making subtle changes to the way I tackle my To Dos and go about my day and it’s helped heaps and heaps to shed that Busy = Success mantra. Take it little by little and be nice to yourself and you can get there, too…

  5. Addie says

    This is so beautiful Michelle. I eat up stories of self-realization and self-owning process/progress. I agree absolutely with the first commenter that you totally are what you dream about and owning that is just the next step. Some new song and dance wouldn’t hurt either :) Thanks so much for your sharing, your energy, your action-prompting, your crazy skills!!!!

    I need to own my creative expertise and, as you know, I’m a workin’ on it!

    • michelle says

      We’re all in it together, lady! Constantly learning, growing, creating, expressing….until we have a lightbulb moment or something just “clicks.” That’s the sweetness I want more of, and that often gets buried in the busy-ness.

      And, um, I put my money where my mouth is last night and wrote the first draft of my 1 Woman Show! It’s scary when it’s real, huh?

  6. says

    How much do I love you? Oh just a little bit. 😉

    First though, I don’t see the issue with being “led” in the ways that you described. Listening to your tribe and being able to see what skills and resources you could bring to the table is super powerful! I think a lot of people would have just tried to push their own agendas onto the scholarship peeps instead of taking the time to really listen. Listening is a super important super power that you are an “expert” at! (See what I did there…hehe)

    Second, I totally agree about the need for applause and laughter and accolades. I have always thought that needing that pat on the back or that recognition was a bad thing but the more I sit with it the more I realize that I just want to know that I’m doing the right thing and making people happy. If that means parades and standing ovations then so be it! :)


    • michelle says

      You love me a lot, I know it, Mrs. Carbaugh – don’t deny it! 😉 (And I love YOU!)

      “Listening to your tribe and being able to see what skills and resources you could bring to the table” is the most delicious way to phrase it…I’m stealing that perspective, thankyouverymuch.

      {applause} {standing ovation}

  7. says

    Reading this post made me all teary-eyed. Thanks so much for sharing this Michelle. I’m starting to ask exactly the same kind of nautical questions in my own journey right now (my margins and daydreams are full of little boats and weather vanes and compasses) and it was so inspiring to see you affirm yourself in this way.

    • michelle says

      Ooh, I wonder where our ships are going….hope they meet up in the vast ocean somewhere! So many possibilities, so much freedom….that’s the blessing and the curse, right?

      • says

        LOL totally! More blessing that curse I think, I hate being stuck, but all that potential can be overwhelming. I just want to do everything! And right now! But I’m getting too old for that, my body complains AND I’m so busy with my fingers in every pot that I don’t get a lot accomplished.

        I find myself cycling more these days: I spend some time being all introspective and laying out the map as it were and then I spend a few months just doing everything I can and getting all excited and then I feel myself veering off course and getting frantic and have to stop and check the stars again. . . Not the most efficient method, but I’m working on it. 😉

        PS I’m hoping our courses will converge in 2013 once I’m done school. I am so excited to work with you. I love reading your posts, they help keep me on course. :)

        • michelle says

          Oh Danielle, do I hear ya! Although I have to be the annoyingly optimistic life coach and say that if you KNOW that’s your cycle – introspection/planning -> doing -> reviewing – then why the heck is that a bad thing? Why can’t ya make that really f***ing work for you, ya know? It might actually be the most efficient method for ya! What would happen if you leaned into it?

          And I’d looooooooooooove to work with ya….keep me posted and feel free to send any questions my way!

  8. Kristin V says

    I wanted to offer the fact that when you write…

    ‘I’m ready to stake my claim. To share what I’ve gone through, to voice my opinion, to allow myself to believe that it’ll resonate with “my tribe” and will allow them to take their own action, find their own truth, steer their own ship….”

    I absolutely believe the capability is there for you (now!) because I feel like that is what you helped me work on overall (and I / we didn’t realize it completely until the end). If you were helping me work on it, then it must be there on your end. (At least that is how I’m connecting it all in my head.) I mean, I read those lines of yours and thought “well, yeah!”

    But I hear ya. It is scary, and it’s easy to think “who am I to tell anyone anything?” That’s why I think you (and other people who commented) hit the nail on the head when you wrote that it’s about *inspiring* others. It’s more about living in a way that you can feel good about it and that if someone said, “You know…I’d like to live my life more like you and see the world the way you do,” you wouldn’t hesitate to say, “come on over! It’s a good place to be!”

    • michelle says

      You’re a peach, Kristin. Thank you times a million for this reflection – boy did I need it.

      I’ll be thinking “Come on over to my good place!” moving forward – it’s a great perspective.


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