I recently wrote about the four stages of skill development. The first stage is unconscious incompetence and the second is Conscious incompetence and represents a turning point. It is is when you begin to grasp the nuances of that new thing you are learning…and realise where you are with it: the parts that flow easily and naturally and the aspects that are more challenging or difficult.
This is the place where we are inclined to make comparisons. If we compare our early efforts with someone who is an ‘expert’, the gap can feel so large as to be a complete waste of your time. However even in the conscious incompetence stage you are an expert of a type: no two people have the same energy field, so no person is really ‘better’ than another. Stripped down to the basic level what you bring to everything you do is your own unique energy imprint and there can be no comparisons.
The message here is “joy is where it’s at!” Give yourself permission to be an expert — wherever you are in your stage of learning, and remember that your stage of development is constantly changing. You will know more tomorrow, next week, and next month than you do now. Does this make what you know today to be less valuable? Not at all! If none of us value and honour what we know today, whatever we learn will never be enough. We will never be satisfied with what we have now. Just as you cannot stop aging, you cannot stop the process of learning. On the other hand…
At the conscious incompetence stage you may begin to ask yourself if you want to invest the time and resources to become as skilled as you first imagined yourself becoming. You might find yourself considering one of these options:
to keep going and delve deeper, perhaps taking courses or finding a mentor,
to keep going but feel like a fake because you ‘aren’t really doing it’,
to quit or adjust your expectations.
Keep Going and Delve Deeper
Once you get a glimpse of what it might take to truly master something it can feel overwhelming. To keep going can require courage. You may feel vulnerable in the beginning but as you gain confidence, there are rewards on many levels: confidence, self esteem and the pleasure of doing something well.
Feeling like a Fake
“Fake it ‘til you make it” is a perfectly legitimate way to act while you are learning something. I actually prefer “dance like no one is watching.” You can actually have a lot of fun with this.
One of the exercises used in vocal technique is to sing as an opera star would sing. How would an opera singer hold his or her body? What would the sound they produce be like? When even young children are given this exercise they produce a richer singing tone. Just holding your body differently produces a noticeable change.
This technique can be used for learning anything. Take an ‘expert’ in the field you are learning as an example, or imagine such a person. How would she carry herself? How might she interact with others? What he say and do? You can even continue this exercise to include what clothes would they wear, what their home would look like. How do they get around? Do they drive a car or ride a bike. Try it…this can be a lot of fun and it also works to help you overcome feeling like a fake.
Deciding to Quit or Changing Expectations
If things are not progressing as fast as you would like them to, you simply do not enjoy it as much as you imagined, or if you realise that it will take more time and effort to become as expert as you would like, allow yourself to change your mind.
Deciding to quit – or to continue as a beginner, is perfectly acceptable. It does not have to be all or nothing. Perhaps doing something ‘just for fun’ at the beginner’s stage is where you really want to be. Here is a story from my own life, of something that I recently learned.
Many years ago I decided I wanted to play the flute. As a beginner in music I did not realize what I was getting into, and about six months into music lessons I quit. The progress I was making was painfully slow and I wasn’t really enjoying it. Still I held on to that flute, thinking I would find a different teacher one day, or even teach myself enough to play ‘free-style’. Then I discovered Native American flutes. I picked up one at a trade show and realized I could play it right away and that even as a beginner pretty much anything you do on the Native American flute sounds good. Of course experienced Native American flutists sound incredible, but as soon as I picked it up I knew it was the instrument for me.
In the grand scheme of things, joy is where it’s at. The inner work in the conscious incompetence stage of learning is to find the joy and happiness of the beginner’s mind and bring that feeling with you as you develop a deeper level of skill.
Painting Class – My Starry Night
Last weekend I happened upon a summer festival where there had been a juried plein-air art show. I only caught the end part as the awards were being announced.
The adjudicator was explaining that the pieces they awarded prizes to were those that had captured the energy and spirit of the festival. They were not necessarily the most technically developed among those who had entered the competition. He went on to say that if someone sticks with painting long enough their technique would improve but eventually they would hit a wall and that wall is Themselves.
In other words, in going deeply into any art (and probably all and everything in life) our biggest block is not skills and knowledge, but what we find inside ourselves with all our human mixture of fear, pride and ego.
This got me thinking about the four stages of skill development, which are: 1 – unconscious incompetence, 2 – conscious incompetence, 3 – conscious competence and 4 – unconscious competence. Unconscious incompetence is when you don’t know what you don’t know.
It is in this ‘beginner’s mind’ that we are often the most joyful and happy, not yet being aware of the rules and the ‘right’ way to do things. In an art class I was taking, I interpreted several famous paintings. Shown is my rendition of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I had fun painting it and I enjoy the mystical quality about it.
There is no real reason to move from unconscious incompetence in the creative arts, either in your own creative endeavors or in purchasing art work for your home. Many famous folk artists fall into this category. Nova Scotian painter Maud Lewis sold her paintings for under $10 when she was living and I recently saw one original being auctioned with the estimated selling price of $3,500 – $4,500. I do not know why certain pieces of art or artists becomes so valuable, but I do enjoy Maud Lewis’ art. They have a good energy about them.
It may be that we feel pressure, both from ourselves and from others around us, to move too quickly out of beginner’s mind. It is almost as if as soon as we show some interest and promise in an area we feel compelled to become as good as we can and sometimes in this pursuit, the pleasure is diminished because, taking it seriously, we become critical. On ‘hitting the wall’, in beginner’s mind you may be perfectly happy, but then critical feedback from others can lead to fears arising; leading to self doubt and loss of confidence.
It may also be that it is the other people’s own fears and self doubts that lead them to be critical in the first place. The wall can stop you in your tracks (you give up — pronounce yourself a failure and never try again), or it can represent an opportunity to move to the next stage where you begin to learn and develop. Another possibility is that you can break the wall down and continue doing what you were doing, enjoying the blissful beginner’s mind. How great it would be if we could take up painting, drawing, dance or singing and be joyful in doing an activity just for the pleasure of doing it without expectations!