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An Accidental Expert

Justine Fedak with her 8-year-old daughter Alessandra

Justine Fedak with her 8-year-old daughter Alessandra

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Updated: October 22, 2012 6:09AM

I’m not sure when I realized I was an “expert.” When does anybody actually admit to themselves they are? How is it that one day you’re just you, and then suddenly you are an expert?

After running my first half marathon, I wondered if I was a runner. Should I start writing that into my bio? What would officially confirm that I was an “athlete”? I asked my trainer, and she agreed that after running 13.1 miles with a number on my body, it was official. “Good,” I thought. Validation.

And that’s how it was for me at work. I joined a bank (now BMO Harris) in 1992 and to be honest, I had no intention of staying. Financial services didn’t seem like a place for somebody like me, who prided herself on marching to the beat of her own drum. But 20 years into a career that has challenged and shaped me, I’m an expert — in financial services marketing. An accidental expert.

In the corporate world, we devote a lot of time to talking about having a career plan, setting goals and ensuring we’re on track. Moving up, bigger titles, broader mandates. We feel pressure to know the right move at every turn. We build and tear down relationships at work. All to make sure we are getting ahead, or just getting somewhere.

Even when deep down we really aren’t sure what we want —besides validation.

But the moment I realized I was an expert, by accident, it changed my life — and my perspective.

My secret passion is coaching and mentoring. I’ve met with hundreds of people over the years and shared my insights, listened to their ideas and challenges, and helped them identify things they didn’t realize they had already done, as experts, maybe by accident.

I’ve realized that we are all on the same quest. My 8-year-old daughter called me the other day at work and said, “Mama, I need to talk to you about something important. What is my purpose?” I was shocked it would even occur to her to wonder about something so profound at such a young age. But don’t we all ask ourselves that question?

Somehow we end up where we are. For those of you who managed your way there with precision, I applaud you. And, truthfully, I am in awe of you. I have to admit that I still have days when I ask myself what I am meant to be doing. Am I making the most of every day? Am I giving and receiving all I can to and from those around me? And am I using my “expertise” to benefit my workplace, my colleagues and my community?

That said, being an accidental expert has some unexpected benefits. First, once you accept that you’re an expert, you need far less validation from the outside. You can take comfort in every life experience you are given.

I have come to understand that I’m an expert at tragic heartbreak because I lost my first love to a car accident at 21 years old. I’m an expert at living with MS, since I was diagnosed 11 years ago. And I’m an expert at growing up with divorced parents and realizing that a family is the people who love you, however they are configured.

I have embraced the chaos, and learned from it. And now I think about things that impacted me deeply, and that I know maybe a little better then the next guy, and I smile, because every last one of those experiences, good or bad, has made me an accidental expert.

Justine Fedak donated her fee for writing this column to the Noah’s Arc Foundation.

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