Embrace Your Incompetence

by May 24, 2019

You can’t be great at everything. None of us can. But the question is: what are you going to do about it?

Assuming that you’re in a position where you’re ‘consciously incompetent’ (refer to the Conscious Competence Theory), there are a few different ways you might look to approach the issue.

One approach, is to never talk about it.  Also known as: living in denial, puffing out your chest and putting on a big-bravado-brave-face, in attempt to steer the office detectives away from the foul scent of incompetence.

The issue here is, it’s unsustainable.

Although many people will preach the old motto for life “fake it ‘til you make it”, if you fake it for too long, it can become reckless to the organisation you work for. Furthermore, if you’re living in a near-constant state of overwhelm, stress and anxiety (from not wanting to get caught out) it can become reckless to your own sanity. 

It’s hard to imagine that avoidance of the issue is going to make things better.

Alternatively, you could (as the title suggests) embrace your incompetence, talk about it with enthusiasm and approach the issue with a proactive lens. There are a range of different solutions, but for my experience, I’d suggest doing one of two things: 

  • Work to become competent
  • Craft your career and go ‘all in’ on your strengths

Work to become competent

I’m a firm believer in the old expression, “If you don’t have it, build it. If you don’t know it, learn it”.

If a certain skill is vital to the career you’re in, and/or the career you want, sometimes, you just need to suck it up, acknowledge that you’re currently incompetent in a certain area and seek out the resources that will help you to improve in that area.

Look it up on Google, seek out a mentor, undertake a postgraduate degree (…at UTS!), the possibilities to learn these days are near-limitless.

Furthermore, if you work with an organisation that has good leadership, don’t be afraid to discuss your areas for improvement with you manager or supervisor – it ain’t weak to speak! There’s a good chance your organisation will support you, and potentially assist, by linking you to the appropriate resources needed for improvement.

Craft your career and go ‘all in’ on your strengths

NOTE: A high level of self-awareness is imperative to appropriately execute this option.

Sometimes, it’s beneficial to consider whether the effort it takes to become competent in a certain area is actually worth your time.

In some instances, if the thought of certain activities utterly repulse you, and realistically, you’re going to have to work through a huge amount of push-motivation to even become average at a certain task, it might be time to ask yourself: “Is this the role for me?”

Would you be better crafting a career around, and focussing your attention on, the things that really excite you and the things that you’re naturally skilled at? Would you be better going ‘all in’ on your strengths, becoming one of the best in the business at what you do, and developing a highly rewarding and long lasting career, doing what you love?

For example, let’s say, that you’re a passionate and brilliant writer. Your love for communication has led you into a marketing role, which requires you to do a little writing, but the majority of your work involves crunching numbers and analysing data in complex spreadsheets – something that you’re really struggling with, and something that you have no motivation for whatsoever.

Could you revise your position? Would you be better off undertaking a role that requires more writing (e.g. copywriting, journalism, content creation), and leaving the data analysis to the mad-spreadsheet-scientists?  

DISCLAIMER ON THIS APPROACH: Taking this approach to addressing an incompetence can be a great option, but it cannot be the option taken every time you’re faced with a difficult task. Do not mistake this approach as an excuse to become a constant quitter, every time the going gets tough. The reality is, that with every role we have in life, there will be things that we may not enjoy doing, and things that we are not always great at. To progress in any facet of life, you will at some stage need to get outside your comfort zone.

However, when you’re passionate about what you do, and you have an exciting vision for where you want to go, learning and practicing to become better, can be a brilliantly energising and rewarding experience, rather than a boring and draining one.

So, whether you choose to progress or whether you choose to pivot the next time you realise you’re incompetent in certain area (we all will), I urge you not to avoid it. Embrace it, acknowledge it and do something about it.   


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

By Simon Jaeger

By Simon Jaeger

Marketing Consultant

Simon Jaeger is a dynamic Sydney-based marketing consultant, currently working at UTS Careers. With over 10 years of experience across a multitude of disciplines, including experiential, digital, and integrated marketing, Simon brings a holistic and data-driven approach to driving creativity and innovation to the tertiary education space.