14 Aug You’re Not As Competent As You Think
Modern society, particularly within the professional realm, is permeated with the concept of competence. So much so that it’s become a billion-dollar industry.
What makes competency such a marketable concept is its simplicity: someone specifies the markers of competency, they then sell those markers, and then people are measured against such markers in terms of failure or success.
Thus, competency has become commodified. You can buy yourself a certificate, degree, title, badge, course, or books, and the world officially deems you as competent in what you do.
However, that’s not what competency is about, and its casual commodification has made people overly confident in their abilities to the detriment of not only themselves but the people they serve.
What Competency Isn’t
Most people believe that competency is a state of excellence and mastery of knowledge. They expect a competent doctor to know all the answers to their problems or a competent lawyer to win their case, and anything less than perfection is a sign of incompetence.
Everyone has something they’re competent in, whether that’s listening, psychology, mathematics, reading, etc. When stressing their competency to others, they may refer to how long they’ve studied the subject, the courses they have taken on it or the hundreds of books they’ve read on the subject. They do so because they believe their past efforts and investments in their field represent the ultimate status of competency.
But a sense of competency can quickly become a self-destructive trap. When you rely on externally validated identifying markers of competency, you fall prey to the false belief that your past models secure your future successes.
Just because you passed a course on life coaching doesn’t mean that every client you have will go on to achieve and overcome great things, and just because you’ve read hundreds of books and articles on economics doesn’t mean you have the stock market all figured out.
Being in an authorial role or position doesn’t equate to competency, nor does having a degree, certificate, qualifications or books.
Competency isn’t something you acquire, but rather, it’s something you earn through experience and then maintain through constant challenging, questioning and exploration.
Who or What Determines Competency Anyway?
Humans aren’t machines which are programmed to produce binary outcomes. There’s no true way of measuring the competency of a person based on their outcomes, because failure isn’t something we can ignore or avoid our whole lives.
Unlike machines, humans undergo significant changes through their learning experiences, both good and bad, and arguably even more so from their failures than their successes. People undergo mental, physical and spiritual changes through their learning endeavours which a competent computer doesn’t.
Competency isn’t Black and White
Imagine you’re a parent looking at schools for your child. You want the best teachers possible, so you apply for schools which produce the highest grades. A teacher who produces high-achieving students year upon year is competent in some degree intellectually, but there’s more to a teacher than that.
There are teachers in other schools who don’t produce class-fulls of A* students, but they’re competent in their job because they emotionally support students from low-income households or troubled backgrounds. Some teachers become an essential shoulder to lean on when a student is experiencing dangerous mental health issues or struggles with their identity, bullying, or isolation.
These teachers may not have the fancy awards, expensive college backgrounds or A* results in their end of year exams, but they’re competent to the students who need them.
These teachers weren’t taught at college the skills to connect with students who are suffering or struggling at home, nor do they have qualifications in “relatability” to connect with students who come from different cultures, upbringings and backgrounds than they do.
They’re not competent at their job because a college, student board or brochure said they were – they’re competent because they realise there’s more to their job than textbooks and grades.
What Competency Truly Is
The way competency is marketed today doesn’t reflect how humans learn. Competency today is all about ticking boxes rather than examining how a person learns and how they develop and apply their knowledge.
Competency shouldn’t be measured by qualifications, certifications or even online reviews. Instead, one demonstrates competency through questioning the systems and challenging one’s beliefs, methods, routines and habits.
Competency isn’t a state of being; it’s a trajectory.
Competency isn’t about perpetually looping the same skills over and over again without fault, but about disrupting your thought processes by employing new skills, methods, routines and techniques.
A competent person is one who isn’t defined by their past successes or external markers of competence – they practice and evolve what they do because they acknowledge the ironic limitations of competency.
Competent people know there’s no end to skill development, so they continue to grow and learn from their environment and the people and world around them. They adapt their skills, methods and techniques; challenge their beliefs and approaches and incubate what they learn from their experience so that they can share what they’ve learned with others.