How to Be an Expert When You Have No Experience

Updated: September 18, 2012

Angela Horn

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This post is by Angela G. Horn of Balance & Life.

When scaling Mt. Everest or sailing solo across the Atlantic, having a plan is vital. Without it you won’t just fail, you’ll fail miserably.

That said, there are many situations where you can learn on the fly.

In these instances it’s more about believing in yourself and having the desire to succeed, because when you have these two elements in place the nuts and bolts will mostly take care of themselves.

When Entertaining Yourself Turns Into Something More

A few years ago I was temping at a new post-production facility where my responsibilities included scheduling, answering the phone and taking care of the editor and his clients.

Business was still a little slow, so I entertained myself by making them outlandish Dagwood style sandwiches for lunch. I enjoyed the creative outlet and they in turn appreciated being well fed. Everyone was happy.

When my contract ended and word got out that I was leaving there was an outcry. Who would be making the sandwiches if I weren’t there?

“You should be the catering manager!” they said.

“Really?” I was dubious.

“Yes, absolutely!” came the emphatic response.

I had no catering experience (my background was in graphic design) and more importantly, I didn’t know how to cook. Sandwiches were the full extent of my kitchen repertoire.

My willingness to learn and desire to succeed clearly overshadowed my lack of experience however, because my application for the catering position was accepted.

Thrown Into The Unknown

At first, things continued in much the same vein. Our staff and client quota grew, but not by much, so I simply carried on creating Dagwood specials in my tiny makeshift kitchen.

The company was still in the process of renovating its offices and since I was now the catering manager it fell to me to oversee the design and installation of the new kitchen.

With no practical knowledge to speak of in this area, I got by on common sense and asking for help. There were a few hairy moments, but in the end the project was a resounding success.

When the number of mouths I had to feed began increasing, I quickly realized that I could no longer keep operating in the same way. I began ordering stock online and taught myself some basic cooking skills.

I convinced my boss to buy a barbecue and Fridays became my day to get out of the kitchen. I had no idea how much meat to buy per person, but luckily my butcher did.

By the time I left the company 18 months later I was cooking for more than 60 people a day, whipping up things like Spaghetti Bolognaise, mouthwatering soups and designer salads with the ease of a consummate professional.

Suddenly I was expert enough.

5 Tips for Becoming a Pro

  1. Having a plan. Not only will this make your life easier, it will also ensure you succeed in your new endeavor. It was only once I began planning my menu in advance that I really settled into my new job and started enjoying it.
  2. Asking for help. If there’s something you don’t know how to do or that you cannot do by yourself, say so. You’ll reach your end goal a whole lot quicker than if you were to struggle there on your own steam.
  3. On the job training. It comes with a steeper learning curve, but it also guarantees that the lesson is properly ingrained. There’s no denying that school has its place, but there’s nothing quite like hands-on experience when you’re learning something new.
  4. Don’t be afraid to hit the ground running. Growth only happens when you are out of your comfort zone, so grab that new opportunity in spite of what your lizard brain is telling you.
  5. Learn from others. No matter what path you’re setting out on, there’s likely to be someone who has walked it before you. Find that person and talk to them.
You’ll be surprised at just how willing people are to share their knowledge if you ask.

Your life experiences count. You may not have the required tools or skillset to begin with, but there might just be something in your current arsenal that can at least help you get started with your new learning.

What tips do you have for someone "going pro" in something they've never done before?


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