Competency vs Mastery

Published on 17 may 2014

Competency vs Mastery

Imagine that you’re stranded on a desert island. You’re lying on the warm sand, but you’re beginning to feel hungry. Alas, the only edible plants are on the other side of the island, but to get to them you have to climb really tall trees with prickly thorns or cross lakes with stinging fish. It will take you a full day’s journey to get there, and you don’t know what other dangers you could encounter along the way and if you’ll be equipped to overcome them… “I don’t really need to eat,” you begin to convince yourself.

What just happened there? Fear, frustration, self-doubt and overwhelm took over. The fastest way to feel frustrated and overwhelmed is to imagine something that you desperately want as a feat of epic proportions. Add unfamiliarity and you welcome fear and doubt to join the club.

I often coach people who are on the brink of changing careers. They can no longer reconcile the way they currently spend the days with the way they yearn to spend them: doing something in alignment with the song of their spirit. And so they come to me perched on the precipice of the rest of their lives, knowing that I will hold their hand and together we’ll jump inspite of the fear, trusting that what lies on the other side will be worth the journey, no matter how arduous it may be. In this context, I’ve been right every time – it’s always well worth the leap.

As I dig deeper, I frequently find that the areas they are most inspired to dedicate their lives to are sometimes things that they don’t feel qualified to do. Now it would be one thing if they were referring to things like Doctoring where there actually is a qualification required. Being an artist, however, does not require any diplomas or certifications at all. As we unpack the suitcases of resistance they have brought with them, occasionally my clients cite the 10,000 hour “rule” as a reason they would not be able to achieve what they most want with their lives. This is what I lovingly say to them: that’s just an excuse.

Would it be fair to say that being good at something is part of the process of becoming great at something? Well, then let’s focus on that first. To not do so would be the equivalent of starting a 12 hour road trip thinking that you can’t stop to pee until you arrive at your final destination – absurd. Obviously you’ll pull over at a rest stop along the way (probably 2-3 hours in, if your bladder is anything like mine).

This is a very important distinction to make here: competency vs mastery. Competency can be achieved in just 20 hours of focused practice. That’s just 45 mins/day for about a month, including a few days off.

“The major barrier to learning something new isn’t intellectual – it’s emotional,” says Josh Kaufman in the TEDx talk where he illustrates what can come from 20 hours of practice. He’s spot on. We don’t like feeling incompetent, and starting something new requires us to admit that we don’t know something, which tends to result in us feeling a bit incompetent. On its own it it’s easy enough to ameliorate but when you add the misunderstanding of thinking you’ll need to invest 10,000 hours of practice time before it goes away, well then you’ve just added a huge side of overwhelm to the plate, which is enough to turn anyone’s stomach.

So here’s the recipe for a developing a delicious new skill:

  1. Connect to your why. Why do you care about acquiring that skill? Why is it important to you?
  2. Deconstruct the skill into its smallest components. It’s likely you’ll find you have transferable skills when you do this, and so you’re not actually starting from scratch.
  3. Learn just enough to start practicing and self-correct.
  4. Remove the resistance to practice. (Having a mindset coach definitely helps with this part).
  5. Practice for at least 20 hours.

Like anything in life, the more you do it, the better you get. Getting started is the hardest part, which is why we always begin by connecting to your why.

Then we chunk down as much as possible so that each step is bite-sized. By chewing away at it, you’ll be able to taste if it needs more heat and that’s how you’ll know where to apply additional spice. What are you waiting for? Get into it and savor the mix of flavours!

Author

Divya Darling

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