I retired early, but I’m no expert

36 thoughts on “I retired early, but I’m no expert”

  1. You can’t just randomly post something on a Wednesday, Steve. What, you think you’re an expert or something?! Tee hee.

    I agree, an expert is one who has Breadth, Depth, Experience and First Hand Knowledge. By definition, if the only thing you’ve managed is something in your personal life, you don’t have the breadth or depth to achieve “Expert” status. My view, but then again, I’m no expert!

    1. Hehe, thanks Fritz. I’m certainly no expert either, but I tend to agree. Accomplishments are wonderful things, but they also don’t automatically make us “experts”…in my humble non-expert opinion.

  2. “To be an expert, you’ve probably failed. A lot. Like, a lot a lot. You are more experienced with the things that GO WRONG than you are the things that GO RIGHT. You recognize potential pitfalls before you even get to them.”

    I think this is huge. Knowing what worked for you without knowing where the pitfalls may be for others makes claims of expertise problematic. You need to be able to see things from all different perspectives, which is very hard to do when you are basing your “expertise” off of your own (one) life experience.

    1. Thanks Matt. I think you hit the nail on the head. We might be an expert on our own situation, but using such a narrow view as a basis to achieve expert-level status might be a bit of a stretch. But then again, expert-ness might also lie in the eye of the would-be customer. 🙂

  3. The problem is no one can really be a personal finance expert as the personal part makes everyone’s perspective and situation unique. There is no way to walk a mile in every situations shoes. But… You are an expert in your own life. Your life will likely have similarities to some others. Those that are similar even for a small part might find value in your learnings from those similar situations. Ie I wouldn’t come to you for advice on installing a ceramic floor in my kitchen, but if I were doing airstream floor your experience would provide valuable insights.

    1. Good point, FTF. We may have expertise in specific areas of life, and that’s great. And, being honest with one’s self certainly goes a long way. Experience and expertise are two very, very different things! 🙂

  4. Hi Steve,

    I think you are an expert on thinking, saving and retiring 😉

    In reality, you have a lot of experience that others do not have. But the term expert is an interesting label, which could be arbitrarily assigned. In order to be a “life coach”, you don’t really need much other than establish something that is called “credibility”. Some people for example see Tony Robbins as credible, others do not. So it depends on who you ask.

    If I am a CPA, you know that I had to go through some sort of a formal process to reach that designation ( 150 college credit hours, pass an exam with a high failure rate, get a certain number of hours of professional experience and continuing professional education) . in order to become a life coach however, I just need to look like I have credibility.

    Hope life is going well for you and your spouse. And hope J$ is not working you too hard ;-0


  5. I’m always scared to label myself as an “expert” at personal finance. That label can have legal ramifications if you don’t have the proper certifications. There’s nothing wrong with helping other people, but just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you’re an expert at it.

    1. Bingo, Mrs. Picky Pincher. Being good at something is…well, good! But just like experience is different than expertise, so is “being good” and being “an expert”.

  6. It has been my experience that anyone who refers to themselves as an expert or a guru is seldom worth listening to, and is mainly setting themselves up for a fall.

  7. I probably come from a biased point of view, as my workplace is *really* quick to call anyone a subject matter expert. I was an “expert” right out of college (and my job was only tangentially related to my degree, at best).

    Then of course, I’m constantly told to give myself more credit, to talk myself up, because women in science and business tend not to. Personally, I’d say maybe these super cocky men need to stop pretending like they know what they’re talking about, but that’s another issue altogether.

    I wouldn’t really call myself an expert in anything, but I have to admit I love being called an expert. It’s really a matter of perspective, though. My grandparents would call me a computer expert. To them, I am. I can answer any question they have, advise them on antivirus software, and let them know if an email is legitimate or not.

    If I’m looking for how to replace brake pads on my specific model of car, I’d be better off watching a video of someone working on that specific model, rather than an expert auto mechanic. Now, clearly any yahoo that tools around with cars is not sufficient. But if they’ve successfully done it once, that’s huge.

    Now, calling yourself an expert or letting others call you an expert is really different than financially benefiting from that label…that is something I tend to have more issue with…

    1. Ah yes, the SME. I’ve heard that term a LOT during my working career. Sometimes that term was warranted. Other times…not so much. But like you, I suppose I enjoy being called an expert, but even then…it includes so many additional assumptions that I don’t necessarily support…even if they are generally positive in nature. Weird…

  8. I think education and training make up a lot of the criteria for someone to be an “expert”, then a certain amount of application of that training. For example, Certified Financial Planners are required to pass a series of classes (I’ve had three of them – they’re intense!) then pass a LONG (like 10 hours) test. After that they still need to put that information into practice for two years before they can call themselves CFPs. So, the training, confirmed by a test, then application. I think in many industries “expert” qualifications would align similarly.

    1. Education can definitely help, though I’d certainly want a good level of experience to go along with that education. Book smarts AND street smarts, when put together, provide a great deal of expertise. I’m glad to see that the CFP training includes both! 🙂

  9. Great post, Steve. ESI over at ESI Money has a whole series devoted to so-called “financial experts.” I much prefer the DIY method since I know no one cares more about my money (or health, etc.) than I do. I look forward to the free-for-all Wednesday posts.

    1. Thanks Cody. Yup, I think I’ve read ESI’s take on this matter. Totally accurate! And I agree with you 100%…nobody cares more about your money than, well, you. Many people WANT your money, of course. 😉

  10. All a matter a perspective, to my mom I’m an expert at most things. 🙂 I’m her tech support, tax guy, etc. Subject Matter Experts (SME) is a term that gets used a lot in the IT field. I’m consider a SME in a particular area by my peers, because I have years of experience, help build something from the ground up, and have large knowledge base of the topic. I like your definition “To be an expert, you’ve probably failed” I think you become an expert with trial and error, and overall years of experience.

    1. Hehe, good point! Yeah, we do tend to appear like experts when we’re match with someone who knows almost nothing about it. Appreciate your comment – trial and error is a huge part of becoming an expert.

  11. I feel like I’m more of an expert in personal finance than software engineering… and I programmed for 25 of my 40 years alive. I’m rusty in my web development and database development.

    When it comes to personal finance or life coaching, I think it would be simply understanding where your client is in life and giving guidance. You may have only built one floor, but if you spent ten years reading about how to build floors and someone asked you summarize the concepts, you could probably do that reasonably well. Maybe the difference is that one is performing a physical skill and the other is passing along knowledge.

    1. Thanks Lazy Man – I would definitely agree that some experience is better than no experience, even if it’s just reading (book smarts). To me, the *application of knowledge* is way, way more important than “having” knowledge.

  12. I like the 10,000 hour rule from Malcolm Gladwell. To become a true master of a subject you have to spend at least 10,000 hours honing that skill. Not the time you spend linking your accounts to Personal Capital, but the time you spend researching new investment ideas, sorting out your own financial mistakes, and improving your performance.

    Then I think of an expert as the next step after mastery. You can become a master at your own finances, but to become an expert you have to put in the time to learn how to teach your skills to others and understand how to add value when they fail. They’ve committed countless hours to their craft and there is no “30 Minutes to Success” way to achieve their level of knowledge and understanding.

    I completely agree that doing something yourself doesn’t make you an expert. And that the market is flooded with far too many fake experts!

    1. Thanks Mama Fish – yeah, I’ve heard of the 10,000 hour rule as well. I don’t necessarily think there’s a hard and fast line drawn that, once crossed, immediately makes someone an expert, but it probably is true that MOST people that we, as a society, consider experts probably have *at least* 10,000 hours devoted to the topic. 🙂

  13. Sure, you might not be an expert.

    But tell me, are teachers experts? I would argue that they are not. A professor might teach physics, but she is not a physicist. Another might teach history, but he is not a historian. Often experts in a field are horrible teachers, because their expertise is their field and not knowlegde transfer. I bet you know at least one software programer that is an expert at his work but is incapable of relating to people enough to help them learn programming. Coaching somebody to retire early is quite similar to coaching somebody to learn sofware development. You’re not teaching them how to program, you’re just teaching them how to think and where they can find the resources they need.

    To be a coach you need A. a working knowledge of the subject and B. to be good at coaching. I would argue that the later is just as important or even more important than the former.

    1. Thanks Towglow – I definitely agree that to be a coach…at least a good coach, you definitely gotta know how to connect with your students. Conveying information is certainly just as important as knowing a bunch of stuff about the subject itself.

  14. Anyone who FIRE’s is an expert in alternative financial planning. The problem is that their area of expertise is limited by their own personal circumstances. For example, as a FIRE’d teacher I can bore you with 403b and 457 details, but don’t ask me about profit-sharing plans, SEP IRAs, etc. We all have limits to our personal finance bandwidth, and if something doesn’t apply to my situation, I probably won’t learn much about it.

    Like you, I don’t see myself offering a coaching service. Instead, I’ll keep writing about FIRE issues from my perspective in the hope that my “wisdom” helps someone out there. When people ask me for financial advice, I almost always reply, “Here is what I would do…” not “Here’s what you should do.” I could never know all the variables that affect an individual’s situation. The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert to help people. About once a month I get an email from a teacher thanking me for showing them the financial light. That’s why I blog. Ed

    1. You hit the nail on the head with what I like to do as well. If someone asks for advice, I’d tell them what I would do – and they can draw their own conclusions about how that might effect their own lives. It’s a good happy medium. 🙂

  15. Thank you for writing this Steve. Some days it irritates me to no end when I see individuals peddling advice as if they were some kind of major expert on the topic.

    It’s also worth pointing out that the ‘advice’ from these ‘so-called’ experts could very well only be pertinent to their personal situation. Their ‘expert’ advice may in fact be poor advice for someone in a different situation….only a true expert has the breadth and depth of experience to know that.

    1. You’re most welcome, Mr. Tako – thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I definitely agree – the wisdom they’ve gained has been tainted very heavily by their own situation and may or may not relate to someone else and where they are coming from. It’s a tough field to plow, no doubt. There are allllll kinds of people out there, after all. 🙂

  16. What gets me is the double whammy — “experts” who haven’t accomplished anything themselves in the field in which they are supposed to be experts.

    Examples: TV financial advisors, many financial writers, most financial planners.

    I’d like to see a net worth statement along each pitch to give financial advice. It seems to me many “experts” dole out advice and they haven’t accomplished anything themselves.

    At least you’ve done something!

    Now if you had put in new flooring in several places, then I might call you an expert. Coming to Colorado anytime soon? I could put you to work. 🙂

    1. Ha! Thanks ESI – I know many people have a simple philosophy about picking a financial advisor (you know, an “expert”). If that advisor’s portfolio has consistently outperformed their own for years on end, then that person is probably fit to serve as their financial expert. 🙂

      Regarding Colorado…we might pass through briefly this year, but I think next year we will be spending a lot more time there.

  17. I’m with Lazy Man. I’ve been out of my field for almost 5 years now. I used to be an expert on the memory interface, but not anymore. On the ER side, I’ve been writing, reading, studying, and living it for about 7 years now. I think that qualifies me as an expert on the subject. That’s more work than some PHD programs.
    I’m not quite ready to do financial coaching, though. I’d hate to tell someone the wrong thing and mess up their lives. What if I tell someone to quit working and it doesn’t work out?

    1. When it comes to advice, it’s tough. I suppose psychiatrists do that all the time…I wonder how they get around this whole thing about advising people to do things that may not work out as well as they had imagined. Do they just throw up their hands and go “Oh well, I tried”, or is it something more serious than that? Hmm…

  18. You’re right and this is a concept that is hard to grasp for many others. To be an “expert” it just means you’ve failed, a lot! But you never gave up and you just keep trying and learning from your mistakes. I think being an “expert” is just about making a mindset shift. “Experts” are just people who are always learning because they know that, there’s always something to learn. In this way, you become an expert!

    1. Well said, Tireless Worker. An expert is someone who keeps trying, time after time. It’s not someone who simply “does everything right” or knows the most. Far from it, in fact.

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