Consciously Incompetent

Pursuant to the goal of advertising my failures along with my successes, I’ll be starting a new thread: “Adventures in Youth Ministry”. In my current internship, I do a Wednesday youth program and a Sunday morning class for kids around the age of junior high. In general, I think that my fumbling around is generally benign in these areas, and I’m definitely making some progress, but this is something I’m not very good at, generally speaking.

First, I want to talk about competence. (Thanks to Beth Liebert, who introduced me to this simple idea) Imagine four squares in a square shape overall. Along the left side is “consciousness” and across the bottom is “competence”. One of the boxes in each column or row is a negative, and one is a positive. This isn’t very clear – here is a link to what I’m talking about, apparently called the “conscious competence matrix”.

What you get, in the end, are four categories: unconsciously incompetent, consciously incompetent, unconsciously competent, and consciously competent. Here they are described in brief:

Unconsciously Incompetent: this means that you are bad at something, and you’re not aware of it. I can’t give examples for myself, because by definition, I wouldn’t be aware of them. If I was, they would be in the next category –

Consciously Incompetent: this is what happens whey you try something you haven’t tried before and fail. You’re bad at it, and you know it. This is where I started in youth ministry. This is also the starting-point for improvement.

Unconsciously Competent: this is the category of natural talents. For example, when I trained in martial arts for two years in college, I learned that I was pretty good at it. I picked up new techniques pretty quickly and didn’t get flustered easily when sparring or being tossed around the room. I had some natural competency, but wasn’t conscious of it until I started actually testing myself. This is also why I tell myself that its good to try new things, even though its usually also scary – because you might be good at them, and otherwise, you’d never know! And if you’re not good at them, you are now in a position where you can choose to improve.

Consciously Competent: this is the end-goal of the model. You know you are good at things, and you know what those things are. You have a good sense of your own capabilities that isn’t self-negating or self-aggrandizing.

As I said above, “consciously incompetent” was my starting point. I think it might be my end-point, too, but there are degrees of competence, and practice makes improvement, if not perfect.

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