There's a part of me that operates primarily as a first-born, know-it-all. That part of me loves striving and expertise. That part of me worries that if I don't know something, I'll look stupid or naive. So I try to always have something to contribute to the conversation. My inner know-it-all has an opinion about almost everything, and even if I don't express it aloud, it's always there.
Earlier this summer, I sat down with a friend to make some seasonal goals. We sat in a booth at the co-op drinking coffee and discussing our hopes and dreams for the coming months. There were wellness goals and relationship goals and, for me, the following aspiration: "Let other people be the expert."
It's a little embarrassing to admit this … that I literally had to write this goal down in a notebook. But there it is. Now you know: I'm still working on accepting the reality that no one expects me to be the universal expert on life and truth (bonus: No one expects you to either). I don't need to know everything in order to be worthy. Instead, I can loosen up the reins and invite other people to be the experts.
A surprising thing has been happening since I wrote down that goal in June: I feel freer than ever before. I have nothing to prove; there are only daily opportunities to learn. Each day is another chance to let other people share, shine and contribute.
A focus on letting other people be the expert makes so much more space in the room. (We know-it-all "helpers" take up more space than we realize.) I'm learning I don't have to have opinions about everything; I don't have to pretend to know something I don't know. Instead, I can just ask questions and then absorb the information that spews forth … from the Rochester trolley driver, my co-workers, the clerk working at the visitor's center or the lady in front of me at the grocery store. They each have all kinds of brilliance to share.
Another gift of this summertime focus has been that I feel far more inclined to talk to strangers (and not in a creepy way). Everybody is an expert in something. Most people love to share their ideas and interests — many just need to be asked.
Omot taught me about the transportation needs of the growing Sudanese immigrant community. Carol taught me about growing tomatoes. Jake taught me how to make kombucha with a scoby. Brandon taught me about the hundreds of varieties of mosquitoes living in the Midwest. (I thought there was only one kind of mosquito.) Axel taught me about riding a bike and raising a rabbit.
You don't have to be the expert on everything. Isn't that great news? Honor the people around you by asking them about their interests. Listen attentively when they talk. Ask follow-up questions. The universe is too big for any one person to warehouse all the wisdom.
Knowledge is at its best when it's shared, so be a sponge and soak it up.