The costs of competence

Augusto Pinaud — №18 with Scott Belsky

We are all incompetent

We all suffer from some level of incompetence, even if we aren’t aware of it. It doesn’t matter what you do in life, you will have a certain level of competency, and it is exactly that level of competency that defines your incompetence level. The good news is that like many things, you can also decrease your incompetence level. The bad news is that most people that actually accomplish that are harder on themselves than those who have never tried to improve. People who have found a way to minimize their incompetence level and have taken up education, hard work, and sweat, generally have it even worse than those who don’t care. Yes, they gain more success, responsibilities, happiness and, in some cases, fame, but as they get their competence level higher, their self-kindness gets lower.

Never ending story

The problem is not that we can’t improve. It’s rather that the effort and time to improve gets bigger and bigger as we improve. Let me bring you this example: if you test your typing speed right now and discover you can type 10 words per minute, it will be really easy for you to go and learn to type 20 words per minute. That it is a 100% improvement. Your new level of incompetence will be at 20 words per minute. Sounds great! The problem is that if you plan beforehand to type 100 words in 10 minutes, you can do now 200 words. So what you got is more responsibility, more stuff to type. You get overwhelmed again, because you will now need to learn to type 30 or 40 or 80 words per minute. The problem again is that as your level of competency grows, the amount of training and time required to reach the next level is much bigger. In order to reach the 80-word-per-minute typing speed, you will need to practice constantly. As soon as you reach that level, you will discover that coming to the speed of 100 words per minute will require so much effort that you may consider it is even not worth to try. It is really useful to consider if it is worth the effort and to decide what we want our competency level to be. The issue is that we will still push that level of competence, and we will find ourselves in the same place we were when we typed 10 words per minute, only with a lot more work and a lot more responsibility.

What for?

The most important thing when improving the quality of your life is clearly identifying the reason. Why are you getting that extra time? Why do you want to type faster? What do you need that extra hour for? For example, I am going to learn to type 80 words per minute so I can get an extra hour for going to the gym every day. Obviously, you will be able to reach 80-word-per minute speed. But if you do not plan and clarify what you’re going to do with the extra time, you will push yourself even harder, failing to recognize how much more competent you are now and killing motivation coming from the new accomplishment. You will feel as incompetent as you felt before.

Many of the people who wish to improve their productivity hope to do so much that instead of looking into what they are going to do with the free space they gain, they will push themselves harder and harder. That, in turn, makes them more inefficient, slower, and even more frustrated.

Why push our competence level higher just to feel as frustrated as we are right now? Is that improvement just for the sake of improvement? What are we doing wrong?

What am I doing wrong?

That was the question that a client of mine asked me: What am I doing wrong?

We had been working for a little bit. He had improved in many things, but still felt frustrated, overworked, and exhausted. He was doing more and more, but instead of being nice to himself, he was constantly concentrating on his incompetence level. Instead of appreciating all that he had accomplished and can accomplish, he was only able to see how much he was not getting done, how much there is still left to do. He couldn’t see that thanks to the changes he made, he was able and was actually doing much more than in the past. He could only focus on what he hadn’t done yet and was sure that he would never catch up. And honestly, unless he learns to better handle the space he gained, he will not. It is like with an extra income - the more money you have, the more expenses you create. That being true, you can also learn to keep your expenses in check, as you can learn to handle that new freedom.

Be kind to yourself

In order to be able to handle your incompetence level better, here are four things you can do:

  1. Clearly identify your current Incompetence Level (for example, I can type 10 words per minute). This step is critical.

  2. Clearly define what are you going to do with the extra time (i.e., freedom, space) you are going to obtain as a result of increasing your current competence. If you don’t do it, you will simply fill it up with random, unneeded stuff.

  3. Be kind to yourself when you forget #2, push yourself toward your new Incompetence Level, and treat yourself as you would if you had improved nothing, because you will do it, more than once. Also, always remember to be kind with yourself.

  4. As things change, make sure you don’t lose your motive and fill that new time and space with things that are important for you.

Photo: Flickr / mikebaird CC BY 2.0

Augusto pinaud

Augusto Pinaud

Augusto Pinaud is the author of two fiction novels and two best-selling books: 25 Tips for Productivity and #iPadOnly. He is married, lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and has a little girl and three dogs to keep him company.

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