The Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast: Episode 9
Welcome to the Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast. Today, Andee and I are discussing fear, failure, and getting stuck. Many people in my sphere of influence have been wrestling with fear, and specifically fear of failure recently. I’ve heard lots of comments and thoughts and struggles with this and of course, with the Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast, I address this on a regular basis. I had a client meeting recently where the person needed to change but they feared the process. What if it didn’t work out? What if they couldn’t perform in a new role? Their current role was stifling them but the lack of knowing about the new role caused fear that was keeping them stuck where they were. Talk about a recipe for frustration.
Andee: It is a recipe for frustration, Rhonda. It’s all too common. I think though the biggest fear that we deal with when we’re faced with our inability or incompetence, maybe incompetence borne out of a lack of knowledge, but nonetheless incompetence. But when we’re faced with that, I think the biggest fear comes because we are afraid we are going to tarnish our image. That people will think that we are not in control or that we are not able to meet the requirements of the job which indeed might be true, but we don’t want anyone to know that. It’s this idea of protecting ourself.
Andee: Actually, psychologists would say that’s the false self. It is the sociological and cultural construct that we make that defines who we are. But just because that we think that’s who we are doesn’t make it so. Just because you think you are competent doesn’t make you competent. Right? You know, for the Christian, when you truly understand your identity in Christ and can live out of that, then you can put the fear in its proper place because you’re still going to have it. Feelings rise, they just come. It’s what you do with them that counts and so you can just acknowledge the fear. You can then say I accept that. I know who I am. I know that I am created in God’s image. I know that God is a God of grace and He’ll get me through this and so I have an opportunity to learn something new or to start processing or thinking about information in a new way. It’s a good thing. It’s not a bad thing.
Rhonda: That’s very true. If we see things as an opportunity rather than as a problem, we’re going to be able to be more open to what the solution might be or the new opportunity in that situation.
Rhonda: So, really it sounds like our perspective on failure is part of the issue.
Andee: It certainly is. I know that you are familiar with the process that our brain goes through when we’re faced with this kind of change and so let’s talk a little bit about that.
Rhonda: Yes, there is a process that our brain goes through when we are faced with learning something new and I really like this. I have taught it to many of my clients and there are some of them who have passed this on to people that they interact with because it can be very freeing if you can look at this as, hey this is a process. It’s not about whether I already know it but what I do in the midst of this process. So, here’s how this process goes.
Andee: It has a name. Tell us the name.
Rhonda: This is the Conscious Competence Learning Model and it was developed in the 1970’s by a woman named Noel Burch at the Gordon Training Institute. Just for the record, saying the words conscious competence is just the beginning of the tongue twisters in this whole thing.
Rhonda: But it’s really cool so it’s worth trying to say them all. So, here’s where it starts. It starts with unconscious incompetence. Basically, we’re merrily going along our own way. We have no idea that there’s anything that we need to know or see or to do in an area of our life. So, we are not even conscious that we are incompetent in whatever it is that we don’t see.
Andee: This sounds like it would fit in the unknown area in the JoHari Window that we’ve talked about previously. I mean, not that the two processes are related but…
Rhonda: They’re not but it’s just kind of an interesting thing and actually when I was looking this up, I learned this process in my coach training and it has just been so enlightening. But when I was looking it up to figure out, so where did that come from again? They did refer back to the JoHari window, which I thought was very interesting. Ok, so the first is unconscious incompetence and every one of us has many areas of the world where we are unconsciously incompetent because you cannot be aware and an expert in everything. That’s probably one of the first fallacies that in our hyper-connected, information available to you on the internet about anything, at any time, that we have this attitude. And it can overwhelm us to be perfectly honest with you.
So, then we move to the second area which is conscious incompetence and in this stage we become aware of the fact that we are lacking the skills, the knowledge, the thinking process that we now need. At this point, it has come to our conscious awareness that we are incompetent in this area. So, at this point we have a choice to make. Do I move through this uncomfortable place of not knowing so that I can become competent, even if I might embarrass myself in the process? Or do I choose to stay in this incompetent state? I have a silly example of this in my life. I have a lack of skill in golf. During my growing-up years I was unconsciously incompetent of my lack of skill in the game of golf. It really made no difference. But when I met my husband Mark, I become conscious of the fact that I was incompetent in golf. My husband is an excellent golfer. He’s never satisfied with his golf game, like most golfers aren’t. But he is excellent and he’s passionate about the game of golf. Not only that, but my son was a natural golfer and for a time was on a developmental tour. My daughter played on her college team for two years. To say that I am the only one in our family who is incompetent in golf, is an understatement. A big one. I could have chosen to change that level of incompetence to competence by spending time working on my skills in golf. But to be perfectly honest with you, I choose to spend my time doing other things. So, I choose to be consciously incompetent in golf. It doesn’t frustrate me that I am consciously incompetent in golf because I’m not negatively impacted by it.
Andee: But what if you wanted to make a change and make the decision to improve your game.
Rhonda: In that situation, I would move from conscious incompetence to conscious competence by working on it. In conscious competence I’m very aware of the fact that I’m getting better and my skills or knowledge are moving into a place of being competent. Going back to that golf example that I mentioned earlier, if I’m working on my golf game eventually I would become more proficient. I would know what club I needed to pull out of my bag to hit the shot that I needed. I would become more proficient in my swing and the fifteen million things that you need to remember; knees bent, head down, elbow locked, hands just so. That would become second nature. But until then I would be very aware or conscious of that fact that I am learning how to become a competent golfer. So, as I reflected on this, I think this is the stage the really challenges us, as adults, much more than children. Children expect to not know as they learn new things. If you think of a child learning to walk or to ride a bike, there will be challenges and struggles along the way but emotionally health children just keep trying and eventually they get to mastery. But as adults, we always need to appear competent or we think we always need to appear competent and in control. If we let others know we aren’t competent in certain areas we fear that they won’t like us or they’ll take advantage of us in some way. Oh the number of places we could apply this statement: politics, the corporate ladder, academia, sports. We don’t see ourselves as interconnected and helping each other, rather independent and not needing anyone else. So, for many people that are stuck in their role, this is the place they fear. They know if they admit their conscious incompetence they’re going to need assistance, in some way, to learn the new thing that will get them unstuck. So, they stay stuck, frustrated with where they are, knowing that there must be something better but unable to find a way to the place that they need to go. That’s the time and the place where a coach, a counselor or a mentor could be so valuable in helping them to see a different option, a way of moving from conscious incompetence to conscious competence.
Andee: You know Rhonda, I think it’s a critical place where a coach, a counselor or a mentor could be helpful and valuable. And the reason I say that is because you commented earlier about the proliferation of information that is on the internet. If we know that we’re incompetent at something, what do you do? You google it.
Andee: Right? You google it and you get some information about it. But a little bit of information does not necessarily make us competent and so working with somebody else who has some objectivity and who is not being pressured by time constraints, because everything in our culture moves so fast. You need to have this information and you need to be competent in this particular skill yesterday.
Andee: That is unrealistic, it’s so unrealistic, but again, the challenge, the fear is that if I can’t get up to speed on this very quickly, there’s going to be somebody else. And for many of us who are, who have already been in the marketplace and the workforce for a while we know it’s somebody younger who is fresh out of school or fresh out of, you know, an opportunity to learn the new stuff, whatever that might be. And probably willing to take less compensation than what we are currently earning and businesses being what they are these days, they’re always looking at the bottom line. So there’s this pressure that if we don’t’ get up to speed as quickly as possible, or if we don’t appear to be up to speed as quickly as possible, we may lose our job or our position in this company, we’ll be challenged, et cetera. So, I think to have a coach or a counselor of somebody who can be speaking into that, who can say wait, “Don’t succumb to the panic. Don’t be deceived by this. Slow down and really acknowledge your conscious incompetence and move thoughtfully and purposefully into that place of conscious competence.”
Rhonda: Absolutely. You said a really interesting thing as you were describing the younger person. Because you said that they have the most current knowledge, you didn’t use the term most current knowledge but they had just come from a learning experience, so therefore they would have the most current knowledge. If we step back from the situation for a moment, why is it we think that we can’t get to the most current knowledge? There is no reason why we cannot, if we choose to, because this is always a choice. If we choose to we can get to the most current knowledge. Just because someone is older or younger is not a reason for the most current knowledge to not be there. It’s like me choosing not to learn how to play golf. If you choose not to learn how to do the latest and greatest on the internet, or you choose not to interact on social media, I don’t know, that’s just a for instance. But I do know people who choose not to interact on social media and it’s not that they can’t function under those circumstances but they do shut themselves out of one channel, actually probably several channels if you think of the proliferation of social media out there, but you shut yourself out of channels of communication when you choose not to be involved in whatever social media channel that you’re choosing not to be involved in.
Andee: Well, if it’s not important to them, if that particular market is not important to them or they’re not, if it just doesn’t have some intrinsic value to them then it’s easy to say, this is not something that I want to become consciously competent in. This is not an area, in which, I want to be consciously competent. It’s like, it’s the exact thing that you were talking about with the golf game. There are other things that you would rather do so it doesn’t frustrate you that you don’t know how to play golf or that you’re not good at playing golf because you are content to sacrifice that particular skill to something else that’s more meaningful to you. I think a real key is, if you are, if you want to make the choice for conscious competence, you have to understand that there is some sacrifice involved. Yes, you can get your learning curve up to speed but if that means taking a course, whether online or attending a local college or whatever, but engaging in furthering your education, then you’re probably going to have to make some sacrifices to do that: financial sacrifices, you have to sacrifice your time, your energy. So it’s a good thing to be aware of the sacrifices that you’re going to need to make in order to reach this goal. Again, I want to say that a couch or a counsellor can help you identify those sacrifices and put them in a realistic frame as opposed to the way we tend to look at everything through rose-colored glasses. When we’re just looking at the carrot dangling on the end of the stick and we’ll do whatever we need to do to get there without actually counting the cost.
Rhonda: I like the term counting the cost. That’s very important. Sometimes counting the cost, when we’re looking at that fear of failure, if we’re in our own little bubble thinking through it only by ourselves, the counting the cost can be skewed either with the rose-colored glasses or everything being absolutely negative. It’s a black hole, I’m going to fall into the abyss and I’ll never be able to get out of this and all is lost. Basically the, ‘all is lost perspective.’
Andee: That’s right.
Rhonda: But when you have that independent third party, that person who is not in the middle of this and can help you see more clearly, it helps you to not fall into the abyss and also go in with a realistic picture as opposed to those rose-colored glasses that all is perfect on the other side of this. It’s the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. So, you’re either falling into the abyss or the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But there’s a middle ground of what is reality. We don’t live in a world that is perfect. There is always going to be something in your position that is not perfect. As much as I hate that, I had to do administrative tasks and we all know how good I am at that. No comments from the peanut gallery. In that place of figuring that out it can be very valuable to have that coach.
Andee: I’m thinking about the conversation we had with Suzanne Bandy about Strengths Finder. Your comment about your administrative skills that you, or administrative tasks that you do not enjoy doing and so you’re not as interested in honing those skills. So, what you do is to try and find someone else who does excel in that area, who does possess those skills and abilities and ask them to work with you. And that goes back to what you were saying earlier, about we don’t see ourselves as interconnected and helping each other but rather as being independent and not needing anybody else. And that’s really a fallacy and it’s a sad way to function. The first three stages are unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, so what’s the fourth stage.
Rhonda: Well the fourth stage is the place of mastery and it’s called unconscious competence. Imagine that. So, in this space, the new skill or knowledge or thought process becomes second nature. The mastery you sought is now part of your being, it’s part of your identity. You do the new thing with ease. You don’t have to think through it each time, but you just know. Your process is just smooth and automatic. So the golf game that is such an overwhelming thought process for me is second nature for the rest of my family. It’s unconscious confidence for them to pick the club out of the bag, step up to the ball and swing, putting the ball at least somewhere near where they anticipated it going. Or using a different metaphor, driving becomes an unconscious competence. After a period of time of driving a car we get in and navigate the roads with unconscious competence. We don’t think about checking our rear view mirror, putting our hands at ten and two, hitting the gas or braking when we see those red lights on the car in front of us. Those are just unconscious competence because we’ve driven for so long. It’s all become second nature for us. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s not. Have you ever had one of those times when you get home from wherever you were driving and you go “I just really don’t even remember passing X-street corner.”
Andee: How did I get here?
Rhonda: Yes, that’s so true.
Andee: You know what that makes me think of though is that it really is a cycle isn’t it? Because once you have mastered whatever the skill is, using the driving metaphor, once you have mastered driving and you, kind of, get to the place where you’re in this unconscious, this place of unconscious competence, there’s going to be something else that’s going to come along eventually, sooner usually rather than later, where you’re going to go right back to the beginning of the cycle again and you’re going to be in that unconscious incompetent place.
Rhonda: That’s very true and actually as I was thinking about this, just this morning this came to me. I grew up thinking, probably as a young adult probably also had this perspective. That there was going to come a time in my life where things were going to be at a place of stasis. That means that things are just as they are. The waters are calm, everything is going to be the same and it’s never going to change and anyone who is listening to this is just snickering because, while I may have believed that was going to be the reality, that is not life. At all. And quite honestly, that’s a good thing. I mean, even if I think about the fact that you have two kids and the picket fence and a dog and probably a husband in there too. Maybe I should have said a husband and two kids and a picket fence and a dog. Even having that husband, you’ve got to paint the fence eventually. Those two kids are not ever going to be the same age two years in a row. They’re to be preschoolers, and then they are going to be elementary school age, and then they are going to be middle schoolers, and then they’re going to be high schoolers, and then they’re going to leave the nest and you guys are going to be empty nesters and somewhere along the line, that dog is not going to be with you anymore because dogs only live so many years. That concept of stasis is a misnomer and that, in and of itself, can put expectations in our head that are totally unrealistic.
Andee: Well, even if you could figure out how to maintain stasis, just in yourself, the world around you is perpetually changing. So, even if you kind of figure out a way to insulate yourself to where life is going along smoothly eventually, something is going to happen because everything continually changes to disrupt your stasis.
Rhonda: So true. So that means that really this concept that we can avoid change, which is part of where this fear of failure, I think there is a root in there, of trying to avoid change and staying the same and it is absolutely impossible.
Andee: Right. It's a lot easier to protect something that isn't changing. I'm thinking again about the false-self and the false-self hates change and so it does everything in its power to protect itself from change, from anything that would disrupt its status quo. And so whenever there is a challenge, of any sort, to the status quo its immediate response is fear and self-protection. It's just intrinsic in all of us. The clue is to learn that to recognize the fear for what it is and put it in its proper place and understand that even the cycle of conscious competence, it is a cycle, we're going to repeat it over and over and over again. That's just what life is and it's not a bad thing.
Rhonda: So, we should embrace this cycle and say when incompetence comes to our awareness and that, OK this is an opportunity. The other thing that was coming to mind, as you were talking about, we try to avoid change and the whole self-protection thing. That’s part of fight or flight, it was wired into us, there’s a reason why fight or flight was there. The question is this time for fight or flight and self-protection or is it a time to open ourselves up and become vulnerable so that we can intentionally become more of what God called us to be.
Andee: Exactly. And I think that begs the comment that sometimes fight or flight is necessary, it’s a good thing. Sometimes that fear response is just spot on and you need to pay attention to it. And respond to the fear not just set it aside. How does understanding the process affect our perspective about fear? That fear from moving from this place of conscious incompetence into conscious competence.
Rhonda: Part of it is our perspective of failure. We can see it as the end. It can be the end of our hopes and our dreams, the end of our identity, the end of who we see ourselves as or who others believe us to be. But what if failure is not the end, but it is the precursor to success to where our true identity is? What happens if we change our perspective, and look at this transition from conscious incompetence to conscious competence as an opportunity or a challenge rather than a problem? What would become possible then? If we see it that way, then the fact that we’re going to not be perfect in the process, so I’m defining failure as not being perfect in the process. As opposed to failure is: I am incapable of doing or being what I’m trying to get to. There is a huge difference there. And if we take that attitude of failure is the next step in being able to get to competence, we are much more free to see what’s possible. That’s one of the roles that a coach or a counselor or a spiritual director or a mentor can have in your life is to be that person that helps you see where you are going. You talked earlier, Andee, about the carrot and the stick and that we were looking at the carrot; well the role of someone else in your life, whether that’s a friend, whether that’s your spouse, whether that’s a coach, whoever that person is, is to help you realistically see the process of getting to where the carrot is and the fact that it’s not going to all be rosy. There’s going to be struggle along the way, like you were talking about earlier. In the process of learning something new, there are costs involved with getting there and part of that cost is failing in the short term. Not failing in that it is the end of who you are but failing because it’s part of the learning process. And if we look at failure that way, that’s a very different perspective on failure.
Andee: Yes, it is. And that perspective can make all the difference between choosing out of fear to remain actually consciously incompetent and engage and accept the challenge and move into conscious competence. And once you do that a few times it makes it easier, I think, to embrace the change.
Rhonda: So very true. Because then change isn’t something to fear but something to embrace and say, “Wow, what new thing am I going to be able to learn in this experience and what new opportunity is going to come our way? How can growing in this new opportunity help me see even more clearly who I really am and what things do I get the throw of that really aren’t who I am in this new way of doing things?”
Andee: So, the new perspective might be, rather than I’m falling into this abyss; I am embarking on a new adventure.
Rhonda: Oh, I love that. So today, what we’ve talked about is moving from fear of failure as our perspective to I am embarking on a new adventure.
To find out more about today’s topic, get downloads of our previous podcasts or to learn how you too can become a Bold & Courageous leader, visit rhondapeterson.com. Our ever-growing community is waiting for you. If you liked today’s show, there are three things you can do. You can subscribe to the podcasts on iTunes or Stitcher. You can give us a rating or a review on iTunes. The subscriptions and ratings help others to find us more easily. And you can help us get the word out by sharing the podcast with your friends. This is Rhonda Peterson, your Bold & Courageous Leader Coach. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you for the next Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast.