Unconscious Competence

by Megan M. on December 13, 2007 (Projects) |

Ragen and I meet every two weeks to catch up, stay in each other’s monkeysphere, and discuss Virtual Magpie from a business standpoint. This woman solves problems for me like you wouldn’t believe—in fact, we’d reached the end of our meeting yesterday and I was just yammering idly about this thing or that thing, and the solutions just kept coming. We laughed about how hard it is to turn it off; I have the same urge to constantly find solutions, and we work well together because the solutions we’re each best at finding seem to be complementary.

Something she said at our meeting really struck me as a process I’d been going through. It’s been a long, weird eight years, man. I think I took three art classes in college; the rest were all related to my performance degree. I started my work here by reading books, doing commission sketches and building free websites. (Can you say Hot Dog Professional? Wow, have they changed… but me too!) When I look back I am sometimes surprised, sometimes horrified by the understanding I had of what I was doing then. The old versions of, for instance, seem to possess a lot of awareness of what I wanted, what I was shooting for… but plenty of other projects ended up looking pretty spare. I’ve come a long way since then—we all have—but what Ragen told me yesterday cut right to the heart of the thing:

When you begin an endeavor, you enter a state of unconscious incompetence. You don’t know that you don’t know shit.

Once you’ve been doing that for a little while, you enter a state of conscious incompetence. You become keenly and sometimes painfully aware… that you don’t know shit. Oh, how I have suffered this one.

After time and work, you will enter a state of conscious competence. You now know what you are doing, but you really have to concentrate and pay attention, in order not to mess it up. This has been the case for me over the last several years—if I stay on the ball (balancing act though it is), I’m fine.

After more time and experience, you enter a state of unconscious competence. You are so proficient at what you do that it becomes second nature to you and only the most complex of problems will require strict concentration and assistance. This… is the state I’ve entered, just in the last handful of months. It’s been especially noticeable since I began working with Cloud Nine—and it’s unnerving because even having gotten to this headspace, it’s so obvious how much more there is to learn. And I’m already discovering new ideas and areas I don’t know anything about, things I want to develop and explore. And some things that are so young, so green for me, that I will have to start from scratch entirely!

The reason this hit me so hard is that I feel like I’m at the edge of unconscious competence, after so long… and at the same time, I’m clearly starting over. It’s an incredible cycle that I suspect will continue for the rest of my life. But what an exciting way to live a life! It blows my mind, a bit.

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