Becoming an Expert of Not Being an Expert

In the past many months, I almost forgot I was working on a book. It was still there, popping into my thoughts every so often; but not as something I was excited about. It came up as an example of how I never finish anything and stay as a constant beginner in anything I do. But last week, I decided to actually take another look at it.

It’s interesting to me that part of why I put off working on the book or even opening the file is because I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed that I never finished it, that I don’t seem to stick with anything for very long and always change my mind. Different things will set my creativity on fire at different times and I have a hard time once it gets down to really building skills. I’d rather dabble. Is there anything wrong with this?

Benefits and Downsides of Dabbling

Today I’m in a good mood, so I see it all through that lens. I am noticing that as I work on songs today and contemplate the book, the two types of writing feed into each other. It’s enjoyable to work on one and then the other, and go back and forth as I please. I feel like maybe both forms of writing are turning out better for it.

It is now officially impossible for me to say “Here’s this craft I’ve been working on diligently for fifteen years.”  I have played guitar, made jewelry, and written for at least that long. But none of those things became a regular practice that I truly devoted attention and energy to. I would forget about some of them for years at a time, except writing in my journal. Chances are that I’ll forget about one of them soon again, as other things spark up my interest.

Acknowledging Patterns

I realize that next week, I may feel very hard on myself for not having a well-practiced art form. I’ll tell myself that the reason everything I do is so mediocre is that I don’t put enough energy into it, and then I’ll probably zone out on Facebook and numb out that feeling.  Why is it so easy to enjoy the dabbling right now? One answer could be hormones. Another could be the focus of where I perceive value to be coming from.

If I’m thinking about how I should be making a living from my jewelry or writing, it’s easy to get mad at myself for not putting more devoted effort into those things over the years. “If you had worked at writing since high school, you’d be better at it now.” 

But if I’m thinking about having fun and living a life that I find enjoyable and fulfilling, then the dabbling seems fine because it has led to just that. Nobody else gets to determine whether I enjoy doing something, they just get to determine if I get their positive feedback or not.

Who Gets to Decide You’re Doing it Wrong?

Maybe part of the key is to remember where value lies. It is always up to us to live according to our values and to feel worthy, but when we start making comparisons or judging our value through the eyes of real or imaginary others, it feels like it is up to them.

“You aren’t making money with your art, therefore, it’s not valuable” can come up for me and other artists. That can be true of to you “value” means “making money by selling art”.  But if “value” means that you are engaged with the process of creating it or with the final result, that’s a whole different thing. Maybe your money has to come from elsewhere, or maybe you have to make certain things that are valuable to the world so that they will pay you for them if that’s what matters most to you.

The bottom line is- I can safely say that I have fun dabbling, even if it doesn’t lead to me becoming an expert who blows other people’s minds with my skills.  Maybe I am my own type of expert.

I hope that I can remember this the next time my anger and frustration towards myself kicks in. As I look back at recent rough days, I realize that the self-critical feeling is always based on the eyes of others and not my own. Whether it’s about dabbling in general or about a specific story or song, when I feel like I suck it is always feeling like I suck in the eyes of others or the world. Not in my own eyes. When I feel the air on my skin and the breath in my lungs, I am never dissatisfied with that experience. When I pump out a song or story or post to try and get positive feedback without enjoying the process or actually feeling the creativity, it usually backfires because the whole action was based on other people telling me I’m worthy instead of feeling worthy and engaged in the moment.

How about you, do these things ever come up in this way for you and your writing?

Do you feel like you always look through your own eyes at your work, or through the eyes of others, or through a mixture of both?

Did you feel the wind on your face today and enjoy it for a few seconds?




22 thoughts on “Becoming an Expert of Not Being an Expert

  1. Gosh I needed to read this!!! I’m a dabbler just like you! Painting, writing, photography I do it all for a few months or years at a time with a passion that rages brightly but then I get bored with it and move to something else. I never stick with one creative outlit for long and like you, I get mad at myself for it. You’re right though, we’re our own kind of experts.

  2. Such a great perspective Jen! Totally allow yourself to dabble. Dabbling is key to creativity and spirit. I spend 80% of my writing time dabbling, and about 20% making money. It completely suits me, because I get to keep writing as a craft and as a hobby, and yet it brings in a little bit of cash to justify the countless hours I spend…dabbling.
    Good luck with your book! Can’t wait to hear more. x

    • I am glad that there are so many of us dabblers! A lot of people I know who are so good at things I assume have been just focusing on those things for forever. I’m glad you dabble in all kinds of writing 🙂 🙂

  3. Wow Jennifer, I agree with you. Your post today is fantastic, I’m proud of your muse also! Your words and thoughts so true and expressed so wonderfully well, we all can relate to this, in a personally! Way To Go! 🙂

  4. There are other people who share your view, and maybe that’s the struggle you’re having: maybe you don’t have enough of them in your life. Life is here to be enjoyed, and making things is fun.

    If you sit down and watch an hour of TV and then tell your friends about it later, do they ever say, “Well, you’ll never be any good at that if you don’t put more time into it?” No, because your friends understand that you watch TV for fun. What if you spent an hour kicking a football around on a Saturday afternoon. Does anyone tell you that you’ll never make the pros? No, because we understand that it’s fun.

    So why can’t being creative be something we do for fun? And yet it is fun. It should really be the definition of fun, but we get all serious about it. Who came along and made creativity so serious (and so not fun anymore)? It’s like the gremlins got to it and killed it.

    • I love what you wrote right here and I should read it every single day. The gremlins come for my fun all the time, from my own head. So many of my friends are so supportive and fun, but my own brain takes whatever I think of as “fun” and turns it into work after a short time. Even TV 🙂 After watching it for a bit I will think “I should really try to get inspired by these characters or notice how the plot is working so I can learn from it…blah blah blah” and it becomes hard to simply enjoy something.
      I intend to get less serious about it and feel the sheer joy of creation more often 🙂

  5. It’s a fine line between engaging in one passion…and living passionately. And you’re the only one capable of determining where that line begins and ends. I like to think of it as being flexible. Better to flex in life…than die having been rigid one’s entire life. You strike me as a person who knows what you’re all about. And that’s more than most people… 🙂

  6. As always, a very interesting and well written articulation of thoughts ma’am.
    I agree with you ma’am, that sometimes I wonder if the fact I am unfocused on one particular art form and instead jump from one creation to the next is professionally a good idea, and the fact that much of my ‘art’ is yet to efficaciously help me financially sometimes gets on my nerves and I wonder if I should proceed. I do however agree with you, that if something makes you happy, then this is just as valuable in a sense as money.
    With regards to the second question you phased ma’am, I sometimes think it a good idea to look at my work through a mixture of both my eyes and the eyes of others, because technically it is not my opinion that I value, but that of others. If I want to become, for instance, a writer, then it is not my opinion that matters most for it is not I that shall be reading the finished product, but others, and looking through the eyes of other people may assist with the editorial process.
    As for feeling the wind on my face – well, it was very windy today, so if you happen to see a man flying through the air wearing light blue jeans and a white shirt – it’s probably me!
    Have a nice day!

    • Haha I hope you didn’t blow too far away!! It’s funny, what you wrote in your comment was the topic of a conversation I had today and I was saying what you just did- that really the eyes that matter depend on the goal of a particular moment or piece or process. Making art for fun is one thing and making it for money is another, and perhaps it is in the going back and forth that we get to have the best of all of it and still improve on our crafts. Thank you for always reading and leaving me with more to think about!

  7. I can’t believe I have a doppelganger. lol No but really it sounds like me. I rarely finish projects. I must have 20 or so stories I started and never finished, I have a problems with endings in writing. My screenwriting teacher in film school suggested writing backwards, which to some degree makes sense. I get great ideas that I don’t follow through with. It does frustrate me about myself and basically I think I am lazy, there is nothing I would rather do than goof off, play on Facebook, blog, talk to friends….and so forth. I complete things when I have to, when there are deadlines, which is why school is good for me.

    But I am as jack of all trades and a master of none, pretty much. I know a little about a lot. I can do a lot of different things but I am not an expert. I want to be respected but I guess I should respect myself first. I finally got my GED this year at 55, I guess better late than never. lol

    Much love,

  8. Reading your post, I couldn’t get the image of Mr. Holland’s Opus out of my head. Mr. Holland’s life-long passion is to write his own symphony. He gets this teaching “gig” to pay the bills while he does. And he dabbles in it all his life while his job teaching consumes his time – or more to the point, as he finds himself investing in his students and providing them with a true “compass.” Okay, if you haven’t seen it, I suppose this is a spoiler, but ultimately all the people he invested in while he was dabbling in writing his actual symphony become his great “opus” – the crowning work of his entire life. I think about that a lot, actually, especially when people ask if I’ve written a book yet. And I think about the fact that Jesus was the ultimate Dabbler – he never wrote a book either, but rather dabbled in multiple lives as he “went about doing good, healing the oppressed.” So while the rest of our culture may be intensely chanting, “Gobble, gobble,” I’m quite content to dabble. Thanks for the post, Jennifer!

    • Ohhh you always make me feel super inspired! That’s amazing, there are so many values to everything that we may not be aware of at all. I love how gobble and dabble are almost the same word…and I want to feel out my inner gobbler and inner dabbler and make sure that I do not spend too much time listening to one and not enough with the other 🙂 Thank you as always 🙂

  9. Is it just human nature to be a dabbler? Better to dabble than do nothing at all.
    In all my years of working life I have only given advice on one occasion and been confident that it was acted upon. Here’s the tale. A colleague explained to me that he was putting off a piece of working and struggling to make a start on it. I suggested that he lower his quality threshold until it reached such a level where any old attempt at it would do. He tried it and said it worked.
    I use this all the time when I am writing. The moment I set expectations that what I write must be good and have value, I am doomed. So I just splat it out, untidy and raw. It is a mind trick because even as I tell myself that any old rubbish will do, unseen forces within me are still censoring and editing away, just out of sight of my consciousness.

    Good luck

    • Thank you Don! That is great advice 🙂 It reminds me of Anne Lamott’s book “Bird by Bird” where she talks about the shitty first draft. It’s sometimes so good to not have super high standards, or any standards, in the process of creation. Thank you for reading 🙂

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