Becoming a Master

There are four stages to learning any skill and ultimately becoming a master:

Unconscious Incompetence

Sometimes called “beginner’s luck”, at this stage the person doesn’t know how little they know. The stimulus to go on depends on the person’s perceived value of the skill.

Conscious Incompetence

In this stage, the person becomes aware of how little they know. Making mistakes can be frequent and central to the learning process. This is where many people give up in frustration, especially if the perceived value of the skill is too low. Moving forward is often driven by necessity (“I had better pass this licensing test or I’m out of a job”) or genuine passion (“I really want to travel and immerse myself in French culture. I have got to learn to speak French.”)

Conscious Competence

Now the person knows what to do, but it is “head” knowledge.  As anyone who has ever learned to a physical skill like dancing, hitting a fastball or playing a musical instrument knows, this stage can be the most painful. Hitting a golf ball is a good example. If a golfer is holding more than one “swing thought” she is likely to hit a bad shot. If she holds more than two swing thoughts, a whiff becomes a real possibility.

This is the stage that separates the wheat from the chaff. Only those most determined to learn make it through. Depending on the desired skill, it can take years. And lots of blisters.

Unconscious Competence

Did you ever watch Derek Jeter field a hot grounder deep by third base? Not a lot of thinking going on there. There can’t be. There is a lifetime of hard work and discipline that goes into the thousands of muscle movements that take place in a fraction of a second.  And his demeanor between these explosions of activity? He sometimes looks like he is going to nod off. When he is playing, though, he is in the “zone,” that state of relaxed intensity common to those who have become masters.

If you are reading this, you have probably mastered your profession. But maybe there is more to be done.

What’s nagging at the back of your mind? A new challenge? Perhaps you want to finish something you started?

What are you passionate enough about to become a master?

Go do it. And don’t stop. We are rooting for you.

– Bob Gagliano

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