I am not an expert; I just play one on the Internet.
Or rather, I wasn’t an expert on anything. . . . until I was.
You see, at 18 I didn’t know how to be a leader. But then I took an entry-level sales job, spent a decade working my way up the corporate ladder, and eventually led a group of 100 people in 16 locations. Over time, I slowly became an expert at inspiring and leading people.
At 22 I didn’t know how to run a successful business. But then, with no formal education, I learned. In the course of time, I opened 14 profitable retail stores for a large corporation, managed a $52 million operating budget, and eventually oversaw the operations for 150 retail stores (which I realize now, as a minimalist, is rather ironic in retrospect). Over time, I slowly became an expert on business.
At 25 I didn’t know how to get in shape or lose the excess weight that plagued me. But then I changed my diet, began a simple exercise routine, and lost 70 pounds. And now people regularly rely on me for diet and exercise advice. Over time, I slowly became an expert on health.
At 27 I didn’t know how to live a meaningful life. But then I confronted my discontent, spent two years paying off immense personal debt, and started looking for happiness in life’s more important areas: health, relationships, growth, and contribution—not material possessions. Over time, I slowly became an expert on intentional living.
At 28 I didn’t know how to be a minimalist. My three-bedroom home was filled with superfluous possessions to prove it. But then I started questioning my stuff, removing one by one the unnecessary things from my life, eventually jettisoning 90% of my material possessions, replacing them with worthwhile experiences. Over time, I slowly became an expert on minimalism.
At 29 I didn’t know what a blog was. (Seriously!) But then I needed an outlet to share my writing and my experiences with other people. So I asked my best friend, Ryan, if he’d be willing to build a website and share his experiences—and my experiences—with the world. He said yes, so we created The Minimalists, started publishing essays (which we later realized were called “blog posts”), and grew our readership to tens-of-thousands of people in 151 countries. Over time, we slowly became experts on blogging.
Approaching age 30, I didn’t think it was possible to leave my corporate job to pursue my dream of writing literary fiction. But then I discovered it was. I had already simplified my life, paid off my debt, changed my spending habits, and radically reduced my cost of living. So I sold my house, paid off my car, eliminated nearly all my bills, and moved into a tiny $500-per-month minimalist apartment. And then I quit. Now people frequently ask me how they too can stop living the lie and start living their dream. Over time, I slowly became an expert on leaving the corporate world in the pursuit of dreams.
At 30 I wasn’t a published author. I had a stack of rejection letters from agents and publishers to prove it. But now, at 31, I have published four #1 bestselling books on my own and co-founded my own publishing community—Asymmetrical Press—where we help writers and other creative types circumvent the old guard. Over time, I slowly became an expert in the publishing world.
Last year I didn’t think I could be a teacher, since I don’t have a college degree. But then I learned I could use my training experience from the corporate world, combined with my love and passion and obsession with writing, to add value to people’s lives. Thus, I started an online writing class this spring. When the class quickly filled up, I was shocked; so I offered a summer session. And when that class reached its capacity, I offered a fall session. Most important, my students—ranging from teenagers to Ph.D.’s—have found tremendous value, have grown as writers, and have given me the opportunity to contribute to their successes. Over time, I slowly became an expert on writing and teaching.
I didn’t tell you any of this to brag or boast or inform you of how great I am. I am not great—far from it. There won’t be a life-size bronze statue of Joshua Fields Millburn occupying the streets of Dayton, Ohio, anytime soon. I am flawed and tattered and perfectly imperfect—just like you.
I wasn’t able to do any of the above because I was smarter or better or funnier or more toothsome than the next guy. Instead, there were two commonalities among all these paths to expertise: time and action.
None of it happened overnight; it took time. And it wasn’t easy; it took consistent action—incremental actions that morphed into habits over time. Now, when I look in life’s rearview mirror, everything is different. Over time, I slowly became an expert. And so can you.