• Fri, Apr 6 2012

Bullish: Be A Badass, Not An Intern

That’s interesting, right? Let’s talk about art lecturing for a moment. I write about building expertise all the time. It is also true that expertise is relative. You don’t need to be Michael Phelps to be an expert at teaching kids to swim. Half an art history degree will confer upon you much, much more than most regular people know about art.

To teach something, you want to be at least 2-3 levels above your audience – that’s it. There’s no reason a young English major couldn’t offer, “Shakespeare for Total Beginners.” Who knows who’ll show up? When I’ve done my nerdy one-woman shows, I’ve attracted plenty of simpatico fellow nerds, but also plenty of older people who just like to go to free events. Oh, and nerdy kids whose parents are trying to show them that THERE’S A GLORIOUS NERD FUTURE AHEAD. (There is!)

And what if someone shows up knowing more than you? No problem! It can build credibility to acknowledge what you don’t know. One of my favorite phrases is, “I’m not an expert in that topic,” which implies that I don’t bullshit or speculate, so when I do say something definitive, it’s fucking definitive.

If I were a twenty-year-old teaching “Shakespeare for Beginners” at my local YMCA, leading a senior citizen and a twelve-year-old through a shaky reading of Titus Andronicus, and some professor showed up and offered her two cents, I’d say, “Is that so? Interesting!” and that I was honored that she’d attend a beginner-level workshop, and then move back to what I was doing. There’s no shame in being at level 7 out of 20 and genuinely helping people at level 3.

Oh, and I’ve never been an intern. In college, I taught myself HTML, got some part-time jobs making websites (in a text editor, which was the only way to do it in 1998!) and then some local businesses as clients, and then I started hiring people (see Bullish: Three Career F*ckups I Made So You Don’t Have To.)

In other words, I used my copious free time and general sense of disenfranchisement to teach myself a skill that older people were unwilling or unable to learn.

I never took a computer programming class – although I did drop out of one after a few days because it was too hard. And yet I was still able to use online tutorials to teach myself a skill that allowed me to make $40,000 during my senior year of college. No one’s A+, internship program, or official stamp of approval was required.

Even if your goals require participation in large corporations – truly, some things cannot be done in a DIY manner – there’s nothing like mastering some important, difficult, trackable, quantifiable, real skill so that you have something to offer other than, “I’ll do anything!”

Something like “marketing” or “writing” is much too broad and nebulous and common and not-frightening to regular people. Master something like Google Analytics, or search engine optimization, or writing marketing Tweets that get 225% more clickthroughs once your proven techniques are employed.

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