Monday, October 28, 2013


Is it possible to come across as too competent?

Here's what I mean: I am quite guilty of giving people the impression, generally, that I am a total expert on whatever I'm talking about. I don't just mean important things. I mean practically any subject. If I have even a shred of knowledge about a subject, I come across as an epic expert.

Why do I do this? I have no idea. Probably I have an astronomical confidence in myself, far more than is healthy. (Thanks for all those "you're a smart girl, you can do hard things" talks, Mom, but they seem to have backfired slightly.) But honestly, once I've learned anything new, absolutely anything, it lodges in my brain as a Kernel of Truth and, if I share it, I do so from the viewpoint of some sort of oracle.

There are some problems with this. Possibly the least of these is that I sometimes tell people their own stories. Like, I'll hear an entertaining story related to me, and, much later, forget a bunch of the details but remember the overall theme, and, like a total moron, retell it to the person it actually happened to. "Oh, you'll never believe what happened to this friend of mine!" "Yeah, that was me, actually." This is, to put it mildly, embarrassing. Luckily, my friends are quite good-natured and apparently love me for my many good qualities, enough to overlook the stupid things I do.

I'm beginning to suspect that I may also be suffering professionally for this trait. Sure, I can expound at length about the benefits of having a well-developed LinkedIn profile, and discuss trusted methods of dealing with finicky clients, and pontificate on the value of offering discounts for upfront collection of payment. But the ridiculous truth is that I haven't actually done any of these things.

I sure sound as though I have. From the way I speak, you would swear I was an amazingly successful freelance editor, dishing brilliant words of wisdom from my keyboard to the lowly masses who are unlucky enough not to have been born me. Hell, if we're being honest, speaking like an expert is what this blog is all about. I'm always going on and on about how to work, what to do, what not to do.

Like I know. I am a total amateur. I have all of one client right now, and they're a really reasonable, likable client and not at all difficult to deal with.

But nobody sees that. Do others fail to send work my way because they are certain I have enough? Do they share less advice with me, because obviously I'm far more advanced than they are? Do they recommend, to potential clients, other editors they feel may have a greater need for work, because they're certain I can handle my own marketing?

I just don't know. Nor am I at all certain I can find out. This isn't some flighty nuance of character I could change with a week's meditation; this is a major part of my personality, deeply ingrained since about the time I learned to speak. To not speak with authority would mean relearning everything I know about the world and the way I approach it.

Is there a fix I can apply that circumvents this? Do I need to learn to attach caveats and qualifiers to my statements, especially in the context of business?

Or maybe this is an asset? Maybe speaking with authority communicates my confidence well, and others respond positively to that? Maybe simply seeming as though you know what you're doing is enough to convince others that you really are competent?

I'd love to hear opinions about this.