The last level of attaining expert status in any field is to contribute to that field. Although this is less straightforward than the previous two steps because it looks very different in different fields and for different people, the basic premise remains the same: you must further the field. You must give back in a way that benefits others.
Ian Byrd is an educator in California who specializes in differentiation merged with technology. He gives back and gives back and gives back. His website is a treasure trove for teachers, and he is constantly working on deepening and broadening his contribution through conferences, presentations, and connections with others in the field. He’s on Facebook, Twitter, and offers a monthly newsletter to fans (including me).
By now, you know what the field looks like. You likely have developed some opinions about where the field is and, more importantly, where it’s going. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you try to find your own niche:
1) Are there obvious gaps in the field? Are there areas in which no one is really working or aspects of the field that are neglected?
2) Where is your personal passion? Even if it’s a burned-over district, just jump into the conversation. Very few areas of human endeavor have no room for another passionate expert.
3) Where is the longevity? If something doesn’t have the power to engage your attention in the long term, it’s not for you. You are looking for a permanent relationship, not serial monogamy.
Once you’ve picked your area of contribution, you need to figure out exactly what form your giving back will take. It may involve writing a book, creating a website, developing a series of videos, presenting at conferences, publishing articles, having a show, displaying your work, mentoring an aspiring practitioner, or curating and annotating the state of the art in your field.
Don’t worry about the size of the project because it will never end. You will not rest on your laurels until they bury you because you have chosen something about which you are so passionate that you cannot imagine not learning and growing in knowledge, understanding and contribution within that field.
Brian Housand, a gifted education professor, is an expert in the field of gifted education and technology. In addition to his literal Ph.D., he has expanded his reputation as an expert through numerous conference presentations (just explore his website to get a taste), serving on the board of NAGC, and creating and maintaining a clean, easily-navigated website. You could argue that he’s gone above and beyond by actually marrying another expert, Angela Housand. This is not cheating, it’s synergy. Full disclosure: I married my IT department.
You must keep reading, keep learning, keep reaching out, keep making connections, keep creating, and keep sharing because the best experts are the cognitive equivalent of servant leaders – their ultimate desire is to enrich life.
Good luck. I hope you’ll let me know how you’re doing.