I started writing this blog to develop myself as an expert in digital communications. Even with only a few years of experience, it seemed important to start getting my name, ideas and work out there. I figured if I contributed enough thought leadership material to the space, I'd soon be recognized as an expert in digital communications. On top of minor internet fame, a bunch of people would want to pay me money to do digital communications for them and I'd live happily ever after - Ryan the Digital Communications expert. But is that really what I want?
Becoming an expert in something seems like a logical conclusion. I know that I add value doing something so I learn to add more value. But I just started my career and I feel like I'm already defining it. I don't even know if I really like digital communications, I'm just good at it. I don't know what else I'd do because I haven't done much else. My fear of being siloed into something I ultimately don't love pushed me to consider the value of not being an expert.Here's what I came up with:
Exploring Something New
What terrifies me about moving away from digital communications is that I feel like I’m intentionally devaluing myself in some senses. All of that precious experience I’ve scraped together gets thrown out and I go back to being the novice who can’t hold his own. But, let’s be real. There are a lot of people more qualified in digital communications than I am. I’m good at what I do, but no one is expecting me to be an expert at anything so why hold myself to that standard? Instead, I can take this opportunity to explore different roles and functions I find interesting.
Having a broader understanding of roles and sectors teaches us a lot about ourselves and sharpens our perspective. At this point, the worst case scenario of a big move is that we learn what we don’t want to do and go back to what we were doing. But, I think the more likely outcome is a thrilling, fresh challenge that diversifies our skill set and continues to build soft skills that are important no matter what.
Learning to Learn
Working in digital communications has made me painfully aware of how quickly the skills needed to excel in a profession can change. In a matter of years, social platforms go in and out of style, and digital preferences seem to change every eighteen months. I’m pushed to keep learning and testing what I know.
To be a successful professional these days, it’s less about what we know and more about what we can learn. The professional landscape changes so quickly now that it’s impossible to know everything about our work. So why even try to hang our hat on something if it’ll be obsolete in 5 years? We're more valuable as professionals if we can demonstrate an ability to prioritize and learn information quickly, and tackle unfamiliar situations effectively.
Major companies are catching on to the fact that they can grow young employees more quickly and retain them for longer through rotational programs. They’re willing to lose marginal efficiency gains in order to accelerate their employee’s professional growth and keep them motivated about work by giving them new problems to tackle. Major companies also see value in growing an employee's general knowledge base of the organization and their networks within the organization.
We’re all not cut out for work at major companies with rotational programs, but the principles are no less applicable. The less we’re in our comfort zone, the more we’re learning and growing. It’s important to prioritize that in career moves within and between organizations.
Prioritizing the Mission
Ultimately, I’m a mission driven millennial. I’m driven by the mission of my work, not the work itself. So the question becomes what mission do I really want to be working on? Right now, I'm captivated by creating a world of impact professionals. Is there a role for marketing and communications in that pursuit? Absolutely. But, if my other talents are needed to make greater strides toward that mission, that’s what I want to do.
As mission driven millennials, We all need to find a mission worth working on. In my experience, professional ability can lead to short-term ,fleeting satisfaction, but enduring motivation and fulfillment is achieved through mission. I've written a couple posts on how to find your mission, even if it's at the place you already work. Not sure what really gets you excited? That's fine. Start with the mission of what you're doing now. If that desn't resonate with you, go try something else. Remember,we're all about trying new things in this post!
My one caveat to these points is that there is a certain level of value we have to be able to provide in order to get hired. There are certainly generalists out there who can find jobs, but they have a lot more general experience than I do. So I think as we move through our careers it's important to hone a couple skills that are in demand. That gets us in the door, but let's find work that's 50%-75% new experiences. It'll probably be harder and more stressful, and also incredibly exciting and rewarding.
What solid reasons do you have for not being an expert? Or better yet, what counter-points do you have for the importance of expertise? I look forward to the discussion.