Which experts should you trust?

Takeaway: Some experts are worth listening to, and others aren’t. To find the good ones, look for those who have dug deeply into a topic, aren’t afraid to be vulnerable about where they fail, don’t speak from a pedestal, and are further along in exploring a topic than you are.

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 47s.

Podcast Length: 28 minutes, 14s (link to play podcast at bottom of post).

There are a lot of people out there who call themselves experts—and as someone who writes books, gives speeches, and has a podcast about becoming more productive, I’d include myself in this category. 

Here’s the thing about expert advice, though: we live in a world where anyone can call themselves an expert, whether they deserve to be one or not. All anyone needs is an online platform—a blog, social media account, or LinkedIn profile—and boom! They can label themselves an expert, a “thought leader,” or, worst of all, a “guru”. So how do you separate the real experts from everyone else? Enter this week’s guest on my podcast, Cait Flanders (a link to play the episode is at the bottom of the post).

Nine years ago, Cait Flanders started a blog named Blonde on a Budget, to chronicle her journey to pay off $30,000 of debt, and write about her various experiments on personal finance. Her website took off, very quickly becoming one of the most popular personal finance blogs on the internet. 

One experiment that she conducted for the website—doing a yearlong shopping ban, where she saved half of her income, and didn’t buy anything she didn’t absolutely need—went viral, which led to her first book, The Year of Less, that, to date, has become one of the bestselling personal finance memoirs of all time.

Then, one night, Cait decided to pack it all in. She published a blog post that I still remember landing in my email inbox, named, Why I’m Retiring from Personal Blogging, and since that date, apart from sharing the occasional nature photo on Instagram, she has posted pretty much nothing online. She packed up her Twitter account, the Facebook page for her blog, her podcast, and everything else. It’s all gone.

In that post, she wrote about blogging: 

“It’s just not as fun anymore. I used to open up new browser tabs and visit people’s blogs like I was walking into their dorm rooms and sitting on their beds. Then we’d share life updates, what little bits of advice we had, and both walk away feeling like we’d had a great conversation with a friend. Now, it feels like every platform (blogs, social, etc.) is a place for people to shout and be heard. We have been told we need to build, grow, make money and have all the answers. We need to be experts. I don’t want to be an expert. I just want to be a human.

This last line struck me, hard—especially as someone who makes his living being a productivity “expert”.

But something else also struck me: that Cait is right! There are so many experts out there, telling us what to do—how much money to save, how to work, and how to live our lives. If any odd person can just call themselves an expert, who should we trust and believe?

That’s when I realized I had to get Cait on the podcast to chat about this idea. At the end of our chat, we settled on a few criteria for figuring out whether an expert is worth listening to.

Great experts:

  • Have done the work. This is obvious, but easy to forget. Cait loves to follow book authors, rather than bloggers, for this reason. The best experts don’t just have opinions about a given topic, as anyone on the internet can—they’ve been researching a topic, experimenting with it, and exploring it for years.
  • Aren’t afraid to be vulnerable. Experts are humans, like everybody else on the planet. They should be open about their failures, in addition to sharing their successes. When an “expert” isn’t open about where and when they fail, and pretends to be perfect, they become far less believable. Look for experts still asking questions, who don’t pretend to know everything about a topic.
  • Shouldn’t speak from a pedestal. There’s nothing worse than reading advice that talks down to you. This characteristic may not discredit an expert as much as the other items on the list. But it does call into question the advice someone gives. Look for someone who isn’t just trying to fix you while pretending to be perfect.
  • Are much further along in exploring a topic than you are. Of course, it’s helpful if they’re also further along in exploring the idea compared to most other experts.

Naturally, there are more variables to consider than these—but the ones above are a terrific place to start.

Enjoy the conversation!

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