If I’ve learned anything about myself in the last few years, it’s this: I am okay at a lot of things, but not exactly GREAT at anything. I’m not an expert in anything. I’m alright with that. I’m a doer of many sorts. My job (my REAL job, my big kid job, that doesn’t go hand-in-hand with classes) calls for it. I like variety, so doing too much of one thing could probably drive me nuts. There’s a point to this little ramble-on, though: knowing my own limitations is a big part of my job description.
While I’m notoriously bad for overestimating my free time, I HAVE learned to speak up when I’m not qualified to do something or share insight on something. (As far as the time thing, many, many people can vouch for me on that. I get excited, I get passionate, I want to help. But I also get burnt out and worn out. I’ve been told by many, many wiser and more experienced people that learning to say “no” to favors and opportunities is a skill I must work on developing.) While this is a great asset to me as a versatile person and “utility player,” it also means that my depth of knowledge in specific areas is often a little more shallow.
The point is, I’ve had to learn when to say that something goes beyond my broad, shallow depth of expertise. Others may have a deep expertise on a single topic, but might not feel qualified to discuss much outside of that area.
Accepting your limitations is a major part of advocating your cause. Whatever cause that is, you can’t serve it well by trying to be everything to everyone. You can’t be an expert in everything. Consider it this way: if you are trying to fill all of the roles that your cause needs, you’re short-changing both your own talents and diverse in-depth knowledge that it needs to tap into.
Consider from the outside looking in, in regards to the agriculture industry. (I choose ag because it’s the niche industry that I tend to have the best understanding for.) The general public know that food grows, animals are raised, but most have no reasons to recognize the various specializations within agriculture. Most wouldn’t necessarily know that there’s a difference between horticulture and agronomy; beef and dairy cattle; popcorn, sweet corn, and field corn. There’s no way one person can be fully-equipped to answer all of those questions, but that one individual can definitely tap into a network of folks who can probably provide a greater community’s worth of knowledge.
If you’re truly passionate about your cause, you wouldn’t short-change it by attempting to use expertise you don’t actually have. I’m definitely not saying that we can’t all have versatile sets of skills and knowledge. I know a lot about bunnies but I also know a lot about…say…art. Those things don’t always go hand-in-hand, and folks that know about my knowledge in one don’t always expect me to bear knowledge in the other. However, it’s in our willingness to understand the limits of our knowledge that we really reach a new level of advocacy.
You know that old saying, “It isn’t what you know, it’s who you know”? In a way, it’s correct. I can read all I want about the reproductive cycle of cattle; that doesn’t necessarily make me an expert on that subject. I do, however, know folks who are much more versed in it than I am. For starters, I know a ton of dairy and beef farmers who are up to their elbows (literally) in this stuff every day. To go a step further, I know farmers like Mike Haley who use advanced reproductive technology such as embryo transfer and artificial insemination to breed award-winning cattle. Then there’s folks like Eric Danzeisen, whose job is the day-to-day activity of helping farmers and ranchers breed the best cattle they can, no matter where they are located. Oh, and I guess I should mention Ryan Goodman, who is currently in the process of getting his master’s in “how cows multiply.” (At least, that’s what I think he’s studying? I might be mistaken.)
You see, I understand the basics of the way cow ovaries work. They aren’t that different from humans. (I’m not sure why I picked this example, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.) The fact is, though, if someone asked me a question about this, I could only give them a shallow, broad explanation. Depending on their question, though, I could help them tap into the knowledge and experiences of any of the folks mentioned above, as well as many others. Not only have I helped them get the answers they’re seeking, but I’ve also probably learned a bit in the process.
Now, this isn’t always the case. In some situations, people just want a drive-by explanation. If you have that to offer, then do so. If someone asks in passing the difference between sweet corn and yellow dent corn, I can probably toss out a quick explanation regarding their uses. But, I wouldn’t feel comfortable harming someone else’s chance to learn and grow in their agricultural knowledge if they wanted to know more than that.
And this isn’t just limited to ag. This spreads outward and upward, into all specializations, all industries, all niches and trades. There will always be experts, and there will always be non-experts (such as myself), and there will always be a need for answers and networks through which to find them.
So, if I can offer one takeaway from this blog post (aside from how many jobs there are in ag that have to do with bovine hanky-panky) it’s this: if you want to advocate your cause effectively, you aren’t going to do it by having all the answers. You’re going to do it by admitting you don’t have them, and growing because of it. If you try to have all the answers, all the information, all the know-how, you’re greatly limiting the potential to share amazing, informative, useful information.
Really, by ignoring your limitations, you’re limiting your own potential.
Now let’s get out there and admit the things we don’t know. (And that’s coming from a Jack-of-All-Trades expert of nothing.)