When Your Expertise Fails You

by Alina on September 13, 2016

in Am I Good Enough?, Gut Feeling, Impostor Syndrome, Organizational Effectiveness

What do you answer when someone asks you “What do you do?”?  I’m guessing you can easily reach for one or two explanations about what you get paid to do, or what you spend most of your time doing.Brazil loses to Germany

If you’ve been practicing something deeply and mindfully for years, it is likely that you’re very good at what you do. Your colleagues and clients defer to your expertise; your family and friends look up to you, and seek your advice in the area of your expertise.

And then … you make a really bad call.

It’s almost unimaginable: you failing in something you’re great at. And yet, it’s happening.


… you lost focus for a minute, even though it is unlike you.

… your call was too risky or too conservative, atypically for you.

… you didn’t make time to keep up with the latest developments, and trusted your experience to “swing it”.

… the result was entirely outside of your control, even though you’ve accounted for most things that could go wrong. And yet, the responsibility is still on you.

What do you do when your expertise fails you? What do you do when you feel like a failure in your own eyes, and possibly in the eyes of those you care about?

And when I say “you”, I really mean … “I”. I worry about it frequently.

Among other things, I’m a professional intuitive (not a psychic, no, but I do use all of my senses to perceive information that is not always available solely through data spreadsheets). I know that there will be a day when I walk into a situation which I should have avoided. The question I dread most, from myself and from others in a situation like this is: “If you’re so intuitive, how could you get this so wrong?!”

Questions like these can make you question your own value.

“What kind of a marriage therapist are you if your own marriage is falling apart?!”

“Why are you teaching classes for raising happy children if your own children are not talking to you?!”

“What kind of an innovator are you, if you fail launch after launch?!”

“If you’re such a good parent, why is your kid such a bad student?!”

“If you’re such a good doctor, why do I feel worse after your treatment?!”

“If you’re such an experienced lawyer, how could you lose this case?!”

“If you’re such a good writer, why aren’t you on the New York Best Seller list?!”

“If you’re taking such great care of yourself, how could you possibly get that diagnosis?!”

Here’s the deal: no matter how excellent you are, failure will happen to you. Failure is something that happens, it’s not what you are. *You* are not a failure. Failure has happened to every person you admire; it’s just that some of the people are more transparent about it than others.

You may be an excellent driver, but if you’re on the road all the time, you probably will get in an accident at one point or another (hopefully, nothing more than a fender bender), because you encounter a lot of different kinds of drivers drivers. If you make many important decisions, some of your decisions probably will be worse than others.

When you fail in your area of expertise, here are two things you need to do in order to make the shift from feeling defeated to feeling like your usual competent self:

1. Analyze the situation in order to see what you could learn from the failure. There may be transferable lessons you can take from this situation into your next tough call, but you’ll see that this won’t always be the case. Sometimes, even when you do your very best, when no one is better prepared than you to make a decision, failure could still happen.

2. Get up and try again. After all, you’re an expert, you’re a pro, you know your stuff, and you are one of the best people for the job. If you begin avoiding critical situations similar to the situation in which you failed, this by itself will make you feel defeated. If you’re truly an expert at what you do, and if you keep working on a project, you will inevitably figure out how to create a better outcome. Try again, as it is the only way for you to feel on top of the game again.

* * * * *

NEW WORKSHOP: Developing Reliable Intuition. Sun., 9/18, 4-6 p.m., in Northern NJ, small group. See Details

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