As Sweet As I Wanna Be

I was chatting with Coach Tommy while he was feeding me lovely plump balls at the net, which arched boingggg quite consistently off my racket. He’d read yesterday’s boingggg post and was like, while mindlessly feeding ball after perfect ball, “It sounds like the hierarchy of competencies.” So I said, “What is that?” And he said, “It’s a bunch of fancy words for getting from not knowing what you don’t know, to doing something without even thinking about it. There’s a stage where you know what you want to do and you can do it, but you still have to think about it. And then in the next stage it becomes automatic.”

When I came home I Googled, and Mike saw me Googling and got excited because he’s into research and frameworks about learning, “Ah,” he said, “I used to teach this for EMS leaders but my chart looked like this and this,” and he started drawing boxes with arrows and talking about babies learning to tie shoes and here in this stage people need support and here people need to be left alone and all this stuff.

And I’m kinda thinking, “Well, crap, why am I just hearing about this now?” I didn’t know it was totally normal, like a thing, to need to consciously think about how to go about doing something for a while before it becomes second nature.

And then I realize that there it is again, that feeling that somehow I am bad, worse than any other person whose ever lived, because new skills and new ways of being don’t automatically manifest the second I become aware of a weakness or an opportunity for growth, a new skill to acquire. I need practice, lots of practice.

But I’m not bad, I’m human. It’s a thing, progress, with stages that are so universal someone put labels on them and made them into a pyramid, or if you’re Mike, a series of cubes:

Stage one – Unconscious Incompetence, like babies, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Stage two – Conscious Incompetence, like toddlers or beginners, we know what we don’t know but we can’t do it.

Stage three – Conscious Competence, we can do it, but we have to really think about it. Like with shoe-tying stage three is where we start talking about bunnies going up over the hill and into the rabbit hole. Or with tennis at the net we run this inner dialogue of ready, step, and touch.

Stage four – Unconscious Competence, where there’s been so much practice that the skill kicks in without effort or thought, consistently, automatically.

I really would like to be at Stage Four, both in tennis and in how I live in the world. But I’m stage two or maybe stage three. I get that my true self, the one I’m willing and wanting to let drive the bus these days, is actually much stronger, sweeter, kinder, and more loving than I’ve let myself be, for various reasons. But living that way moment-to-moment even now that I know I want to and I know how to do it, a lot of the time, takes an embarrassing amount of thought and effort.

And it’s scary, because it’s not like it’s fresh learning, like the first time I learned to tie a shoe. There’s un-learning that I’m probably stage two/three about too. Like I don’t want to be that other way, that masked, hidden, protected way, that big on swagger, low on connection way. That false self way, which has been somewhat automatic stage four-ish for me. So dropping it takes thought and effort. Drop it, drop it, drop it, drop it. All day long. It’s worth it, to me, to see what happens if I let myself be as strong and as sweet as I wanna be, as I am.