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There Is No Expert on You


“Believe nothing no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and common sense.” ~Buddha

Sometimes it seems to me that we are collectively obsessed with expert advice.

In some cases, it makes sense to consult an authority.

When you’re planning for retirement, it’s smart to seek out a financial planner. When you’re starting a business, by all means sit down with someone who’s done what you aspire to do. And when your dog gets sick, it’s probably smart to call your veterinarian instead of relying on your gut instincts.

But when it comes to the decisions we need to make for ourselves, the experts can easily become a crutch.

When I first arrived in San Francisco, I accepted my first full-time writing job for a company that published senior care guides. I was new to blogging and so were my employers.

After a few months of writing polished articles that received hardly any traffic, the editor-in-chief decided the key to attracting a wider audience was to create a panel of experts who would cover a wide variety of relevant topics.

What struck me is that readers often asked questions when they needed to make a difficult decision and were looking more for validation than information. The best example was when a woman with an aging mother asked if seniors with no prior mental health issues frequently get depressed in nursing homes.

It seems to me that what she was looking for was less about statistics—which she could also have found by Googling—and more about confirmation that her elderly mother wouldn’t be unhappy if she moved her into a home.

But no expert can provide that answer. Sometimes there isn’t an answer, and there won’t be until we act and then learn the consequences of our choices.

I can understand the allure of confirmation.

I spent a decade in therapy, starting when I was 12.

All through my adolescence, I looked forward to sessions to validate my feelings, hoping my therapist would authorize even the most minor decisions—essentially ensuring my world wouldn’t fall apart because I found the courage to be assertive or honest.

At some point in my late teens, I also became a psychic junky, regularly visiting my local tea room for insights into my future.

They rarely gave me any concrete information, but they always ended each session with, “Everything’s going to be OK.”

This one moment was what I paid for—absolute verification from someone who I believed knew that nothing bad was going to happen.

I suspect this is what fuels the self help industry, and it’s why we get so attached to comforting beliefs. We want there to be far more absolutes than there are, and we don’t want to have to carry the weight of our choices alone.

Sometimes in looking for emotional back up, we give our power away—and oftentimes to people who know far less about what we need than we think. It’s an interesting thing about perceived experts: Our perceptions aren’t always accurate.

In their book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, Ori and Ram Brafman explore a concept known as value attribution—what they describe as a quick mental shortcut to help us decide what warrants our attention.

Essentially, this idea suggests that once we assign a certain value to a person or thing, that understanding influences how we translate new information.

So if you decide someone is an authority on a subject, you’re more likely to take their words to heart, whereas you likely wouldn’t put your trust in someone who doesn’t seem to have any credentials.

As an example, the authors cite the unknown scientist Eugene Dubois’ search for the missing link back in the 1800s. Although he unearthed fossils from what is now known as Homo erectus, anthropologists refused to believe he made a major discovery in human evolution.

Years later, the well-respected Charles Dawson presented the London British Museum with fossils from what he named “Piltdown Man” for the city where he found them. The skull appeared to have been dipped in brown paint for an aged effect, and the jaw actually came from an orangutan.

Since this discovery confirmed that civilization began in England, which pleased the British, and the scientific community valued Dawson as reputable, they believed what was, in retrospect, a pretty obvious deception.

They valued his words because of what they wanted to believe and who he was, even though his words were completely untrue.

It happens all the time in the modern world.

You see a self-help book from a best-selling author and assume it’s a ground-breaking resource before even reading it. Or you see an eBook priced at $97 and assume it must be a valuable tool. Or someone offers you something for free and, in the end, you devalue it—if it costs nothing, it doesn’t appear to be worth something.

The value we attribute to people and things isn’t always an accurate reflection of the value they can offer us—particularly when we’re looking for answers to avoid the pain of acknowledging there aren’t any.

At the end of the day, we need to know when we know all we can, and then we need to act and own that choice.

All the good advice in the world won’t change that the future is unpredictable, and even counsel from an expert with a wall full of degrees can’t guarantee a specific outcome.

The experts don’t have all the answers. Sometimes there aren’t any absolute answers. More often than not the real answer is that we have to use our own instincts and common sense and accept that what will be, will be.

Photo by Mendhak

Avatar of Lori Deschene

About Lori Deschene

Tiny Buddha Founder Lori Deschene is the author of the Tiny Wisdom eBook seriesTiny Buddha's Guide to Loving Yourself, and Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life's Hard Questions. She's also co-founder of Recreate Your Life Story, an eCourse that helps you change your life. For inspiring posts and wisdom quotes, follow on Twitter & Facebook.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • http://twitter.com/30vanquish Matt R

    I could relate to this post quite a bit. Just an hour ago, I was having an argument with my cousin about what I should do about certain situations. Then I came upon this post and realized that ultimately the decision is up to me. It’s my life that I want to create so it’s up to me to decide what I want out of it. I suppose I needed this article to wake me up and realize that my own common sense will guide me to the right path.

    Thank you for writing something that hits so close to home!

  • Jennifer

    This one is difficult for me because I spent so many years being told what to do and now as a person on my own, have issues with control. It’s easy to justify delaying a decision because you “need” the input of someone whose opinion is valued. In fact, when you think about it if Trusted Person No. 1 gives me advice and I fail, I can shift part of the blame on them. It’s a little more “safe” that way, but not how I want to live my life. Today I just might ask for a little less advice… I’m fairly confident I know what I’m doing. :)

    Thank you for this post!

  • Lorigreentarot

    Very rarely do I read something that makes absolute and complete sense. I shall keep a copy of this post to read again….and again.
    Thank you so much.

  • Brad

    This is why religion is so powerful and “popular” people can’t make decisions on their own and rely on something “bigger” than them assuring them everything will be okay no matter what.

  • Jennifer

    That’s a good point. I never thought of it that way.

  • Ani

    I like a lot of what you said and I simply adore the phrase, “There is no expert on you.”, but I disagree with the take on therapy.

    Having gone through several therapists over several years for different reasons, I try to tell people that they shouldn’t be afraid to see someone new if the person they are currently seeing isn’t helping. They are all different and they have their own methods to try and help you. You shouldn’t be paying for “confirmation” as that is something you can get from a closer friend or family member. A therapist should be able to determine how to get you to see things differently and then get you to put it into practice.

    I have a very good friend who I like to joke, “She gives me the verbal slap in the face when I need it.” When I was in a bad relationship that I kept trying to make work, she was able to snap me back into reality by telling me what I didn’t want to hear and to remind me that normally I wouldn’t put up with the stuff he was doing.

    My last therapist who I was terminated from after a year or so, helped me learn to forgive my mother. I hated my mother and wanted to disown her. She hurt me so much and on our 2nd or 3rd session, my therapist explained, “One day it will stop hurting. You will realize she has no power over you and she will no longer be able to hurt you.” I was crying and kept asking how that is possible and how I get to that point and she shook her head and told me it isn’t something she could just tell me. Basically saying, it is something I have to do on my own.

    The sessions that followed and the things we talked about she would often remind me and help me realize that I am not the same person as I was years ago when my mother drove me to try and kill myself. She would also ask blunt questions that would get me to react and stand-up for myself. When I stood up for myself or gave a confident answer, she would give me this little smile and move on. I didn’t make the connection until after termination that she was just preparing me. Getting me use to the idea of being able to stand up to my mother when she would verbally attack me or try to manipulate me. My therapist prepared for situations that I was otherwise paralyzed in and it’s just as she said. After taking control of my life again, I realized that my mother couldn’t hurt me anymore. I was able to stop worrying about forcing myself to be the daughter she wanted me to be. I could never fit in her mold just as she could never fit in my mold for what I wanted to have as a mother. It was okay that we are different people and I was able to forgive her.

    My therapist certainly didn’t tell me how to forgive her or tell me how to stand-up to her or behave. She merely helped me learn that for myself. When you’re in a position where you’re stuck and paralyzed emotionally, sometimes you need someone to work with you. A good therapist learns what type of person you are and tries to get you to see things again in a way that you need to see them. That’s all.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Ani,

    Thanks for the note. I didn’t mean to imply that therapy doesn’t have any value, but rather that it’s easy to consider a therapist a crutch (particularly when you’re a decade into it and you started as a child). I needed to see a professional which is why I did, but I personally became over-reliant on her “expert opinion” as permission to make decisions I was afraid to make.

    I by no means intend to discourage people from speaking to someone if they need help in overcoming emotional blocks. I do think, however, that a lot of people are looking for someone else to solve their problems, as opposed to seeking the courage to solve them on their own.

    I’m glad to hear that therapy was helpful for you. I think you’ve described really well what a good therapist can do. Thank you for sharing your perspective!

    Lori

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I couldn’t agree more! I personally believe that there are very few concrete answers in life, and that ones that do exist come from within.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Jennifer,

    What a great point. I think it can also help us forgive ourselves when things go wrong. It’s all too easy to beat yourself up when things don’t pan out how you intended. When someone else was part of the decision, it might feel easier to avoid that trap (like you said, they take the blame). I suspect it all comes down to acceptance as opposed to having to blame someone (whether it’s someone else or ourselves).

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Lori

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I’m so glad this helped you Matt!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome. =)

  • Anonymous

    Great post! I’ve found that it’s better to not ask too many people for advice and just go with your guy. At least if it’s the wrong choice it’s YOUR wrong choice…Much easier to live with than taking someone else’s advice and having a negative outcome.

  • http://winewillfixit.blogspot.com Winewillfixit

    “All the good advice in the world won’t change that the future is unpredictable, and even counsel from an expert with a wall full of degrees can’t guarantee a specific outcome.”

    This is great and so true. I often find that when people want to talk to you about their relationship problems, they really have no interest in getting your advice – just want you to validate their feelings and tell them all will be ok. And really, all will eventually be OK but it’s not the path they’re necessarily looking for. I really appreciated this post!

  • http://www.alwayschallengeunhappiness.blogspot.com Erin

    Wow…what an amazing article. Very well written and so poignant. Great read!

  • Erin Lanahan

    Hey Lori…OMG this is SO where I am lately as well. Trusting and reminding myself that “What will be will be” and that’s enough. There really are NO answers, and therefore all I can do is turn within, trust my inner guide, and turn it all over to my higher knowing to reveal each next indicated action. It certainly forces me to slow down and stay connected o the present moment, which is always a challenge. Anyway, thanks for this beautiful post!

  • em

    Its Charles DARWIN, not DAWSON…….DARWIN’s theory of evolution.

  • Shyloh

    I came home today thinking words like ‘wow and woah’ are the sounds of wonder. I led a group of 4th Graders on a field trip to see Bald Eagles. What spoke to me was, I was being looked upon as a ‘perceived expert’ by those kids and their teachers. It made me aware of not only the advice we seek, but the advice we give. I’m no expert, but they were needing one. I’ve been working on offering less advice and applying that urge towards being more in the present. We were lucky enough to have an eagle come within 15-20 feet of our group and we were granted a rare up close viewing of our this majestic creature. The collective sound of “WHOAAAAH” from the kids was my particular “allure of confirmation”. I’m a sucker for astonishment. At first glance, this seemed to be the source of joy and pride for my day. After reading this article, I’m more certain that that source of joy is the gratitude I feel for being able to be part of the experience. Thanks for the great insight. Perfectly timed!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tee-Fimmano/100000081279357 Tee Fimmano

    I loved this, Lorie! I was smiling all the way through it, seeing myself as having felt and done all thoses things, too. And everything you wrote is so true. Sometimes the hardest answer to accept is that there isn’t one. ♥

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tee-Fimmano/100000081279357 Tee Fimmano

    I loved this, Lori! I was smiling all the way through it. Everything you wrote is so true! Sometimes the hardest answer to accept is that there isn’t one. ♥

  • Maryanne81

    That is very interesting, i also find myself asking others for their opinion, even though i know they are no expert. I really think i would be better off sitting in a dark corner for 20 minutes untill i found the answer from my ‘expert within’. I always worry that the oppinions of others are expert answers and then end up totally confused. Im going to take more time meditating starting from today on. Very inspiring :-)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi there,

    Actually it IS Charles Dawson I was referring to. You can read more about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dawson

    Thanks for reading!
    Lori

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks Tee. I’m glad you enjoyed this post! I think a lot of people would rather have a wrong answer than none at all, but I think there’s something somewhat comforting about accepting there are some things we just can’t know.

  • Robin kilburn

    I often wonder how I got sucked in to what an “authority” said, when in my own head I am thinking no thats not it at all.
    I guess that my favorite saying “take responsibility for your own actions” best describes me now.
    And you are so right we do not want to have to make that decision, I guess that is where the “is that your final answer” comes in
    Great post, thank you

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Shyloh,

    I can relate to what you wrote. I write a lot of articles based on my own life lessons, but what I enjoy most about the experience of Tiny Buddha is being part of a community of people who are all learning and applying as they go. I am no more of an expert than anyone else who shares their wisdom here.

    I often say, “The moment I claim to be an expert on wisdom, I’ve contradicted myself.” To me, wisdom is acknowledging that we’ll never have all the answers–we only have possibilities and the ability to share them. In the end, we really need to decide for ourselves.

    Thank you for sharing your story!
    Lori

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I know exactly what you mean. I think that’s a big part of why we look for guidance in general–we want to know that we don’t have to be afraid. But we can never be certain of what’s coming. We can only be certain that whatever it is, we will get through it if we choose to. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I agree James! I think a lot of it comes down to fear–the fear of making the “wrong” choice, and the fear of having to acknowledge/live with it after the fact.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks Erin! I am working on the same thing–following my gut instincts and then letting go of the need to control where they lead me.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Robin,

    I know what you mean. I can understand the whole mental shortcut thing the authors of the book were talking about. But I think it’s so important that we weigh people’s words for what they are instead of being influenced by their authority. As Tiny Buddha grows, I fully encourage anyone who is reading to disagree with me if what I write doesn’t ring true for them. I don’t have all the answers–none of us do!

    Thanks for reading and commenting!
    Lori

  • http://www.amareway.org/ frank

    Thanks Lori for a wonderful post, inspiring even more than usual! Yes, while it is easy to delegate to “experts” the task of finding empirical confirmations to what we already want to do, we are ultimately responsible for the choices we take, so we are better off by putting some thoughts instead of searching for external validation.

    What is even more dangerous than having all the answers is posing all the questions. We may be deeply influenced by people who give us answers, however what influences us the most is acritically accepting all the questions. Examples: can money buy happiness (what about lateral thinking: happiness making you wealthy)? Should we do X or Y (often a false choice)? Etc.

    Peace and metta,

    frank

  • Kathyl

    I really needed to hear this. Depending upon my mood, I can be quite dependent upon others, experts both perceived and not, to help me make decisions and validate my choices. It’s so challenging to to rely on myself because I am still working on feeling worthy, trusting myself.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Kathyl,

    I’m glad you found this helpful. I could really relate to what you wrote. For most of my life, I didn’t trust myself. It’s not always easy now, but it’s easier when I remember that no one has better answers for me than me. I suspect trusting ourselves is a lifelong pursuit–one that gets easier with practice. Thanks for sharing a little of yourself!

    Lori

  • http://www.shamanicattraction.com authentic self

    In my experience, nobody is perfect and no resource or book is perfect, but you can get a lot of valuable information from many resources and people. You just have to take his strengths and be aware of his weaknesses and limitations. Not to take anything for granted.

  • http://www.sensophy.com Jacob Sokol

    Really enjoyed you opening up from your heart here Lori. Rock on my friend…

    Be Lori!

  • deliavega8

    This is such a wonderful, thought-provoking post. Thank you so much Lori.

    (P.S. Oh my goodness, I am in love with Tiny Buddha!)

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You are most welcome. Thank you for reading! =)

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GEJAOLOGQQI3U3GHVEV5G7N7IM uncledude

    Lori, I refuse to believe that anyone who sports as smart a cap as you has problems making decisions. 

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    LOL the hat is deceiving. I sometimes struggle with decisions, particularly the big ones, but it helps me to remember that no matter what happens, I can continue to prosper and grow (even if not in the way I originally planned/hoped).

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