sheryl sandberg, talk, expert
Sheryl Sandberg is an expert in monetizing content, and now she’s also an expert on women at work. Photo via The Daily Beast.

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review about the importance of becoming an expert at work in whatever it is that drives you the most. The article touches on a couple of important points and meanders over way too many pages. So I’ll boil down the 4 key ideas I took away from this article, and how I look at them at my own work in tech. I think these 4 ideas are largely influenced by being a woman in a male-dominated company, but perhaps that makes my 4 rules all the more relevant for young women right here, right now. 

4 Key Ideas Behind Becoming an Expert:

  1. You need specialized knowledge. Justifications for liberal arts educations aside, you need to claim something and make it yours. If you don’t, you’ll hit a ceiling in your career. 
  2. You have to go out and accumulate the knowledge yourself. No one is going to hold your hand and tell you what to do. No one is going to walk up to you as you exit the bathroom one afternoon and say, “Hey, I feel an aura coming from you. You want to build and execute a social media strategy for our XYZ product. I’m going to show you a project I’ve done that’s just like it and then you’ll learn everything from me and and we’ll meet constantly as mentor to mentee and we’ll frolic off into the sunset together.” No one. You have to seek out these projects/mentors yourself. Despite what everyone tells you, your future mentor/role model likely doesn’t already work with you. I’ve learned this firsthand. It’s a myth that you’ll always find a mentor at work. You need to put yourself out there further in the world. Join a group. Tweet a stranger. Make a coffee date with someone you look up to but are intimidated by.
  3. Oftentimes, your company doesn’t even know how valuable your expertise is. You have to show people the value in it. Document everything. Quantify everything. So you felt like that campaign went well? Prove it. Can’t prove it? Well, it didn’t go well; your failure to gather data made the campaign a failure.
  4. Once you gain this expertise, share it. People will silently look up to you for it. Make yourself available. Be friendly.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how you often need to carve your own niche at work. Many times, your company doesn’t even see the need for this niche until you’re already in it and they realize they couldn’t go on without you. I’ve watched so many people do this for themselves, and I’m continually impressed. This is what we should all aspire to. Don’t be mediocre. Be an expert.

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