Expert paneling

How does one become an expert? Is it by studying a subject for years? Is it by fully understanding all aspects of a topic, regardless of how long they’ve been around it? Or, are you deemed an expert simply by title.

In other words, how the hell did I end up on a panel of copywriters, discussing the finer points of advertising and writing with a handful of college students? At a school I never could have afforded, with a degree that none of them are seeking, with less experience in the field then they have in their three years of university life?

It’s that weird?

The news came down today – I’m replacing someone with 20+ years of experience in the field on a panel where I’ll be sitting with other copywriting stalwarts from around our fine city. And I’m totally nervous.

But I shouldn’t be.

My job is to be myself. These college students won’t remember me in a year. If they do happen to remember me, it’s because I said something remarkable, something that changed the way they looked at the business or at life. But the risk ends there. If I’m unremarkable, I’ll be forgotten. It’s a win-win situation.

And, I’m on a panel. I’ll speak at MOST 15 minutes of the 75-minute class. Much of that will be introduction.

Why do we become afraid of situations that can only be positive, that can only give us valuable life experience? Often times, I’m curious why I shudder from the idea of public speaking, even though I know I can do it well, in a humorous and modest way, and I can at least shed a little light on a subject that, while I admittedly haven’t mastered, I know better than someone who’s never worked for an agency before in his or her life.

Human nature? That’s the only thing I can think of. Is the ability to speak publicly a trait as real as nursing or adrenaline? If we don’t have this trait – if we don’t master it – are we less inclined to reproduce, taking a Darwinian concept to heart and dying without passing on our genes? If you can’t speak in public, what is it that stops you?

For me, it’s a fear of failure. That’s my number one fear in life, actually. I want everything to work, to be easy, to roll along without problem. For others it’s the fear of looking stupid. It’s the fear of speaking what’s on the mind. It’s a fear of your knees locking, cutting off circulation to your brain and causing an embarrassing fainting episode.

I’m going to enjoy this. I need to tell myself that. I declined it, and then realized that if I don’t take risks, I won’t ever move forward in life. I wouldn’t have been in the position to speak on a panel in the first place, actually. In fact, I wouldn’t have even considered writing, putting my thoughts in the open for everyone to criticize and pick over.

To hell with fear. After all, the panel needs the viewpoint of someone who stumbled into the profession. It’s inspiring, in a weird Doug Flutie sort of way.

This was lovingly handwritten on October 12th, 2006