Sarah Browning returns this week with advice on how to keep confident about your expertise.
In the past week I have had two experiences that have given me cause to think about my role as an ‘expert’. I’m not sure whether I thought of myself as an expert when I was employed by someone else and, to be honest, I’m not even sure how much I ever needed to. This has got me thinking about the need to believe in your own expertise in order to be a successful freelancer.
Firstly, I was asked to talk at a careers event for Modern Languages and Linguitics students at the University of York. As a language and linguistics alumn of the university myself, I was asked to speak about my career and introduce to them the idea that there are wider options for language graduates than being a teacher or translator. When they asked me to do it, I jumped at the chance to promote my profession – internal communication is an area that is not widely known about, but it is a growth area that is crying out for the skills that bright graduates growing up in the digital age can bring.
It was only as I stood in front of a lecture theatre of 60 students, and talked to some of them individually at the reception afterwards, that it really dawned on me that they were all looking to me to share wisdom and expertise about building a career in my field! This is partly an age thing, of course – in my head I am barely any older than your average undergraduate, although in reality I am some way past that mark! But it’s also a more fundamental point – I do have valid experiences to share.
The second moment of realisation was as I sat having coffee with a client. This is someone whom I have done work for before and is now commissioning me again. As I answered her questions and made suggestions for next steps, a slightly surprised little voice in my head said ‘that sounds good, you’re saying some good stuff here’. Again a penny dropped – it sounds good because I do know what I’m talking about. I’m not just making this up as I go along, it’s based on my actual skills and experience.
When I was employed by someone else, I already had the skills and experience to do my job, but I never needed to give that any thought. Now, it seems that I am often regarded as an expert by my clients, just because they believe I am or someone they know has told them that I am. And this all leads back to me believing in my own expertise. As a freelancer, I have to believe in myself so that other people can see my belief and decide to put their trust in me to deliver the value they need. When I think of it like that, it seems a really privileged position to be in, something else to add to the list of things I gain from working freelance.
Sarah Browning, Internal Communication Specialist