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Does professional experience matter?

Let me start answering this question with some caveats. In general terms, professional experience does matter, and it matters a lot. However, people tend to confuse “experience” with “exposure,” and that’s where the argument train derails from a sensible standpoint.

Then, what is experience?

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “experience” as “practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or a particular activity” (Definition 2a, source). Pay close attention to the “participation in events” part of the selected definition.

Unless you have, consciously or willingly, participated in a professional undertaking intending to improve your skill and enhance the output of such activity, yes, that qualifies as you’ve gained experience.

Merely engaging in direct observation will not suffice. Let me provide you with real-life examples and their related questions:

  • I have 20 years of experience in the television industry. (Watching TV on the couch or producing different kinds of shows every season?)
  • I have ten years of experience in mobile app development. (Watching the courses or shipping apps to mobile app stores?)
  • I have 15 years of experience coaching entrepreneurs. (Creating random webinars for them to watch or showing them relevant advice that doubles or triples the growth of their businesses? Have you run a business yourself? Are you someone who’s done it before?)

Exposure is not enough because it’s the breed of mediocrity. Your standard of excellence must be evergrowing. Nobody is asking you to step into the Great Leagues of the World Championship of Whatever You Do™ yet, go step by step, but always upwards. Sometimes it is more of the same activity at a better scale bit by bit, and sometimes it’s fundamentally changing the game of what you do, but you always must seek better.

Sometimes, exposure is also receiving a promotion at your job misusing performance metrics (for instance, measuring the fallacious output) where you become higher ranked, but for the wrong reasons. The effect of this is a false sense of professional growth, which in turn affects your ego, feeding a false sense of experience.

As you can already see, there’s a difference between intentional participation of oneself into activities that grow our knowledge of the practice within us and just merely “being there.”

Intentional participation and even leading the group into the deep work is what experience is all about.

There’s a saying for this: “Walk the walk, and don’t just talk the talk.”

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