The Making of a Connoisseur

December 1, 2016

My first job was a cashier position at Stambaugh-Thompson’s which was a hardware and lumber store in Western Pennsylvania. I worked the front line primarily, but throughout my three years, I also worked the lumber desk, the lumber yard, and the return desk.  All of these areas were still cashier-level positions; however, each place was very specific to that area in these different roles.  Not many cashiers worked all areas unless as a supervisor.

When I moved, I became certified as a nurse’s aide (CNA), which is the frontline staff in a long-term care facility, St. Paul Homes. Throughout my decade employment, I worked on several units as a CNA but also held several different positions:  activity aide, [interim] activity director, and a fitness therapist assistant. Interestingly, these were, for the most part, lateral positions within the home.  And as long as I maintained my certification, I filled in when they needed CNAs on the weekend or night shift, and also filled in for the activities department on special events.

I mention these not to provide my resume, but because I have been reflecting upon my career path recently.  It is clear that from these first 13 years, it is not a linear path.  Then add a decade of graduate school (PhD in Sociology), teaching undergraduate courses in various Sociology and Human Development topics, multiple research projects as well as working odd jobs from temp agencies to personal training.  The collection of these experiences have landed me where I am today:  A government civilian defending Navy networks!  I began as a metric analyst in software development, and now I am in the project management office.

Yes, it really is quite an unbelievable squiggly path!

In a recent podcast, I listened to an author talk about leaders being experts at what they do because it makes them stand out. Similarly, Drs. Jackie and Kevin Frieberg uses being a connoisseur as one of their 12 strategies for becoming a “person of impact“.  According to Meriam-Webster, a connoisseur is “one who understands details, techniques, or principles of an art AND is competent to act as a critical judge”.  At work, we call these people subject matter experts (SMEs), defined as a “person with bona fide expert knowledge about what it takes to do a particular job” (  I ask myself frequently:

In what field am I a connoisseur?  In what domain am I a subject matter expert?

Last week, I was spending quality time with a dear colleague in New Orleans. I expressed this same sentiment and shared how so often I feel like I am not “very good” at anything – hardly a connoisseur.  For example, I feel like I am not a “good christian”.  I am not a “good democrat”.  I am not a “good academic”.  And I am not a “good government civilian”.  I did not mean this in a deprecating way so much as when I said “good” I really meant “conventional”.  My friend summed it up accurately, “I wouldn’t say that you’re ‘not a good…X…’ it’s just that you are a different academic, a different christian, etc… We are all unique and we choose our own paths for what is best for us at the time”.

What I know is I am a lifelong learner.  My work record proves it.  I have always worked on the frontline, and yet, I have always been engaged at all levels. There was never a supervisor or boss that I did not know or personally meet. I would say that if they were asked about me, most would likely remember me.  Not because I was a stellar employee with a great record to help me move up the ladder of success.  In actuality, quite the opposite.  My employee records probably reflect the most conventional thing about me!  They certainly do not reflect a lot of awards, bonuses, or tangible rewards; however, I do feel that I was rewarded simply because I learned something, not just from the work itself but mainly from the people I worked with and for (e.g. customers, residents).

I pushed and continue to push boundaries at work. 

I tend to make co-workers more uncomfortable than comfortable (which may help explain my employee records).  But I am proud to say that I never allow my job “success”, however defined, to slow me down in becoming a better person, or slow my growth trajectory.  Working on the frontline, I see myself as key in helping others to grow AND feel as if they are cared for in whatever capacity I am able.  Selfishly, I cannot become stale at doing the same old boring, mundane routinization of a job, even though I may be employed for multiple years or a decade in the same organization.

I absolutely refuse to be like so many I know… DEAD PEOPLE WORKING!

As I search and explore my next position or career opportunity, I will continue to become a connoisseur. I like to use Seth Godin’s concept of becoming “the best in the world at being an idiosyncratic exception to the standard” (The Dip).

That is, being the best in the world at being …Rebecca Siders!

And in so doing, I hope to make an impact in your life so that you will become a connoisseur of YOU!

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