Development is a crucial facet of success in any environment.
However, sustaining a personal development plan can feel like an uphill battle at times.
Tasks linked to position-specific skills and abilities coupled with workshops and courses tied to various certifications — all while handling everyday life responsibilities!
I know I’ve caught myself feeling overwhelmed at times. To compound things, as a younger member of the workforce, I don’t yet have a deep understanding in many areas, nor am I able to fall back on an abundance of unique experiences. This has made me feel uncomfortable that I wasn’t capable or didn’t “belong” in certain work settings. Sometimes I allowed these feelings to lead me to the point of shutting down out of what I thought was self-protection. I’d catch myself blaming my superiors for my discomfort –
“Why don’t they just tell me what to do?”
“Why are they making me waste my time?”
“Why should I have to do it their way?”
Thankfully, a memorable moment from my upbringing has helped bring my thinking into check. I was nearing high school and had been in a particularly foul state of mind. My mother was catching the brunt of it, especially at home where I would spew negativity and constantly complain.
One day when I returned from school, the house had been uniquely decorated in an unfamiliar theme. Black balloons rose to the ceilings surrounded by black streamers. On the table, there was black cake and black face paint that she applied to create a look of general disdain. My mom had thrown me a “pity party”. At first I tried to keep my negative disposition, but after popping black balloons and eating black cake, I couldn’t help but smile. Moving forward, this event became the running joke between my mother and I as, oftentimes, she would issue the warning, “do I need to throw you another pity party?”
While going through the process of learning, especially in a setting of continuous improvement principles and tools, feelings of ineptitude and inability have undeniably led me to old “self-pity” habits like whining and complaining. However, the important thing I’ve had to remember is that the only one in direct control of my attitude is me. Sometimes I’ve found it necessary to “throw myself a pity party”.
I’ve had to focus on changing my mindset from being frustrated or blaming others. When I realize my inability, I shift the motivation to improvement. When I’m in this state of mind I’m able to focus on proactively improving my skills and abilities. However, they say continuous improvement is “simple, but not easy”, and I’ve had to find ways to keep my thinking in check.
A particularly helpful lesson that I’ve learned in this process has been the concept of “competence versus consciousness”. I’ll use this matrix to explain:
This matrix, while it may appear complex at first, is applicable to any skill or ability.
Unconscious Incompetence — This is the stage where we’ve never heard of something and never done it before. Once we start to realize the depth of knowledge available to us, we appreciate that this phase is simply a reality we can’t ignore.
Conscious Incompetence — After learning the basics of any skill or ability, you begin to understand what “good” looks like, and you develop a keen awareness of how far you are from it. This phase has the potential to be the most discouraging.
Unconscious Competence — As you practice and identify areas of improvement, you begin to gain traction, and this enters you into the phase where you may be better than you think. This is especially true when viewed from an outsider’s perspective. You’re beginning to show glimpses of the skill or ability, but you may still not realize it yourself.
Conscious Competence — Eventually, through the combination of theory, knowledge, and practice, along with critical reflection, you may experience what can be identified as “the promised land”, or “conscious competence”. You are now at the point of feeling confident in that facet, and you’re able to now focus on the development of others.
In my experience of going through this progression, it has not always been comfortable. The truth of the matter is — experiencing discomfort in life means that you are growing. In the spirit of continuous improvement, if you embrace the discomfort that comes from the experience of “being bad” at something, you’ve already taken a large step in the right direction. What I often need to remind myself is this — if the situation is difficult and I don’t do what is necessary to advance or solve the problem, I’ve done so out choice. Often this choice is based in fear of something — fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of consequences, etc. Sometimes I think it might just be easier to feel sorry for myself, and I notice those old tinges of “pity” creeping back in. However, “success” in any situation is determined by how an individual chooses to handle a situation.
The acceptance of ineptitude, coupled with a genuine desire to improve, I believe will undoubtedly drive success in any skill or ability. I haven’t met an able-bodied person yet who I didn’t believe was capable of accomplishing anything they set their mind to, given that they have embraced the initial discomfort.
To further illustrate this point, I’d like to explain a great analogy about lobsters. Bear with me here. The story goes that, every few months, a lobster will begin to outgrow its shell. The body’s pace of growth is faster than the pace of growth of the shell, and the shell starts to restrict the lobster’s movements. It becomes necessary for the lobster to shed its shell to go through the process of growing a new one. However, this renders the lobster exposed to the elements and predators. This is indeed a critical period for the lobster. How does it respond in such an uncomfortable situation? Lobsters will crawl beneath a rock long enough for their shell to re-grow to the point that they can once again go out and face the elements.
Interesting story about crustaceans, but how does this apply to you as an individual or even to an organization? The lesson is this — we should embrace the fact that we will go through our own phases of growth and that there will indeed be discomfort. Inherent to this principle is the fact that time spent in the “growth zone” is, by design, outside of our “comfort zone”. It takes a conscious choice to be in this position, and it isn’t in our nature to choose to experience uncertainty or risk. However, if we can “shed our shell” of comfort and “spend some time under the rock”, we can regroup and reframe in a way that is necessary to face the elements.
Thinking back, I’m extremely grateful to my mother for introducing me to a way of seeing the funny side of discomfort. The pity party allowed me to go from unconsciously disdainful to consciously encouraged. I’ve applied this analogy throughout my learning journey. If we can first become comfortable with the fact that we’ll simply never be good at everything, then setting out learning as much as we are able to presents itself as a world of endless opportunity. If at times you feel discouraged, don’t be afraid to throw yourself a pity party or two along the way.
“It’s not what we don’t know that keeps us from succeeding; it’s what we know that just ain’t so that is our greatest obstacle” — T. Harv Eker