The best times, though, are when you get expert status as a bonus—it just so happens that everyone else in the vicinity has less knowledge or skill in this area than the paltry amount you’ve got, plus no way of judging your own ineptitude.
A sudden snowstorm recently handed me one of those glorious moments of unearned authority. I was checking the freezer for ice cream around midnight when I noticed the snow through the window, and I went out front to look at it in case it melted before morning. That’s where I found my next-door neighbors and their abbreviated dog, staring around them at all of the weather and looking awed but apprehensive.
With a hand to my sagacious chin, I dispensed the deep wisdom of the ages.
They listened, confident in their newfound guru, as I nudged them toward enlightenment through sticking to major streets and looking for closures on the news. They had no way of knowing that I had spent the previous February frantically Googling how much road ice it would take for me to die of fear before even starting the car.
Of course, operating under unearned credentials is a risky game, and there’s always a chance they’ll figure you out. During the summer educator-training program for Teach For America, I once spent about twenty minutes as the person in the room who could draw. This is not typically a title I can claim in the presence of an even moderately capable fifth grader, so I was as surprised as everyone else by my answer to a colleague’s plea of, “Help! Can anyone draw a pet that kids have?”
However, in that rush of sudden exalted proficiency, you have to be careful not to push your luck. With everyone else thinking you have superior skills or knowledge, you can start to believe it yourself…
It’s easy to ruin the illusion.
Sometimes it’s just better not to reveal your expert knowledge in the first place. For example, the assortment of 65-and-older ladies assembled for Sunday School do not necessarily want all of their questions energetically answered.
In any case, you can definitely trust my advice on all of this. It’s pretty clear that I’m the expert.