Four Certainties about Competence

As a reflection exercise, I sometimes like think about something I value from my perspective.  Recently I spent some time thinking about competence. Competence means possessing the skill, knowledge, and ability to effectively perform. It provides significance and context for our actions. Here are four things I know about competence.

1. I am never as good as I think I am. It is human nature to see things unfold better in our minds than in reality. I never practice missing a 30 foot golf putt in my mind. But when playing, I miss more than I make.  When I take time to think through an idea before taking action, I plan for a positive outcome. The basis of self-confidence is belief that we can be successful, the reality is we must fail along the way.

2. I can always improve. Improvement is a never ending process because I am not perfect. I am not even close to perfect. Any competence I possess can be improved. I can gain new knowledge, or increase my skill, or invest time in practice. Master pianists have natural talent, but their competence comes from hard work. It is the same with me.

3. I care more about my skills than anyone else. Others can only judge my competence from their perspective. However, my perspective is more important. My evaluation of myself determines my actions. Do I work to improve, or am I content with my current level of competence? External influences affect my plans, but ultimately from within me comes my motivation to improve. No one can force me to become better without my participation.

4. I must use and improve my competence in order to keep it. If a surgeon returns from a five year hiatus, would you want to be their first patient for surgery? If I do not use my skills, they will begin to lose proficiency. Some investment of time is required to maintain my level of competence.

Throughout our lives we gain and lose competence based on the decisions we make and the time that we invest. Taking time to reflect on competence has helped me challenge myself. How do you improve or maintain your competence level?

Check the Facts

I can’t really define when it happened. The news has become mostly opinion. Check out any of the news websites. Read the headlines closely. You will probably find that over half will echo an opinion, or a perspective, not facts.

I remember being taught in school (many, many years ago) how to write a newspaper article. It was about facts. It was making the headline echo the facts that were being reported. We were instructed to make the first paragraph contain all the important relevant facts. Expanded details about the facts should be added in additional paragraphs. Opinion was not to be included because we were reporting news. The era of pure news reporting is quickly fading.

The rise of the internet as a tool for communication and information has destroyed our ability to read news. Blogs and newsletters (like this one) are common. We are attracted to reading opinion. It’s fun. We are bombarded by articles such as, “The 5 Best Ways to Lose 10 Pounds in 30 Days”. Do you really believe there is evidence in that article to support those claims? No. It is just one writer’s opinion.

In today’s world, it is important that we distinguish between opinion and facts. The wide divide of opinions we experience is fueling the divide of society. Without understanding the facts, or a way to even discover the facts, we just become more divided.

To be fully clear and transparent, this newsletter is opinion. I am not making up facts, but my thoughts are my perspective. This newsletter has one purpose, to challenge you to think about your perspective, not inherit mine. Thinking is a critical skill. I hope each week when you read this newsletter, you stretch that muscle. But in a world which is increasingly more difficult to check facts, it is ever more important that you do.

The Assault of Sustained Thinking

The 18th century French philosopher Voltaire put it perfectly, “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking”. Thinking is a skill. It can be practiced. Creativity, innovation, intuition, and problem solving are all forms of thinking. The more you use them, the stronger they grow. Thinking is a talent that can be developed.

Early in my career, I had a colleague that struggled with “being strategic”. Stan had received his annul performance review and his supervisor told him he needed to be more strategic. He was lost because he did not know how to be strategic. Thinking strategically is not something normally taught. The only way Stan could become more strategic is to practice thinking strategically.

I think Stan’s obstacle is a lesson for all of us. Taking time to think is not time wasted. It is time that develops our ability to think.

Our thoughts drive our actions, our results, and our very being. If we have a desire to improve ourselves, our ability to think is probably a good place to start.

Set aside ten to twenty minutes a day for focused thinking. Then use that time to think. Don’t do anything else. Just think. Think about your challenges, your projects, your dreams, your ideas, your successes, your relationships, your goals, or your life. Think about whatever is important to you at the moment. Not only will you discover new ideas, you will improve your ability to think. As humans, we get better at what we practice, and this world could use better thinkers.

Building Trust

Peter Lerangis wrote, “Trust is a fragile thing – difficult to build, easy to break. It cannot be bargained for. Only if it is freely given it can be expected in return.”

When someone doesn’t follow through with a commitment, any trust you had with them will be reduced, maybe even broken. What about when you break a commitment with yourself?

All of us probably fall short when it comes to completing the things we wish we could do every day. What is the impact on the next day? Do you find that it is easier to fall short again?

As soon as we miss a day, it becomes easier to miss the next day. We have broken our own trust.

Whatever we want to achieve is easier when we trust in our commitments to our self. When viewed from this perspective, the goals we set each day are critically important. We must stretch ourselves to achieve, but we can’t allow ourselves to overcommit. What a difficult balance!

Try it. What ever goal you are working on right now, think of it in terms of building trust. What do you need to do to build the trust within yourself? What can you do that will prove you are committed to achieving the goal?

If you never break your own trust, you will continue to grow and achieve great things. Building trust with yourself is important. Who should trust you, if you don’t trust yourself?