Competence and Performance: The Eye of the Tiger

The ability to speak a certain language. The execution of an action. Competence and performance are two traits that link hand in hand when it comes to mastering a new task or subject matter. Remember the feeling of pride when you began to walk on your own for the first time, or put together your first sentence, or even learning how to successfully drive by yourself? I know when it came to my learning ability, if I really wanted to excel I would spend hours and hours versing myself in the subject, attempting to learn from people already competent at the skill or activity I wanted to know inside and out and as a result I think I cut my mastery time in half or better.

When I first attempted to bowl in my pre-school years, my father thought something was wrong. My mother, father and brother all were right handed, so it made natural sense to have me try to hold the weight of a bowling ball within my right hand. Gutter ball after gutter ball proved heartbreaking (remember, this was pre-bumpers in the gutter, the 1970’s). Suddenly it dawned on him to have me try to bowl with my left hand- and I’ve been bowling that way ever since. Must explain my need to march to the beat of my own drummer when it comes to other things in life (I write with my right hand, throw with my left hand, eat with my right hand, can bat from both sides when playing baseball although I’m stronger from the right side).

I can’t remember fully why my first grade teacher advanced myself and one girl student in math classes, but I do remember learning 5 grade levels of math within the next 3 years. Even today when it comes to basic math operations my wife will just ask me to compute in my head- and I usually can spit out an answer within 10-15 seconds. She balances her checkbook by running down the deposits and withdrawals transaction by transaction- and I’ll give her the correct balance as we go.

Even reading I moved quickly from completing all of the kid and teenage books before high school in my school and public libraries. Once my mother knew I wasn’t reading adult murder mysteries to commit anything devious but actually to learn more about the craft of writing, she let the librarians know that it was ok for me to go through all of the adult mystery books. I guess I’ve always had that “Eye of the Tiger” mentality when I find something that moves me- I never entertain the possibility of quitting until I grow in the direction I want, gain competency in the fields that I desire and perform to the highest level that I possibly can. In other words- you can never learn enough about any subject matter.

When I worked as a manager of a group home it would confuse me how certain residents didn’t want to take the plunge into living in staff-assisted apartments with less supervision. They would come within weeks of achieving their ultimate goal- then sabatoge all the months and years of effort by becoming abusive to themselves or to others in the home. Competency scared these individuals. The more that you achieve, the more that is expected of you- and they really doubted their ability to handle this added responsibility and expectations.

My wife and I experience this with both of our daughters. When fearful of the unknown, they resort to protective mechanisms. They’ll skip easy classes in school. They’ll purposely perform poorly on assignments they already know the material on. They’ll whine, cry,and stomp. They even act incapable of putting two pieces of bread together with peanut butter on one side and jelly on the other. Frustrating? It can be- you see chronologically in age a child who resorts to ineptitude over tasks and activities they’ve done hundreds of times.

How do we become competent to perform at high levels? Look at your strengths and individual talents that come naturally to you. Are you spending time pursuing all you can in those areas of your life- or do you spend more time trying to build weaknesses up to average competency?

I used to get frustrated that as an artist, I could not get drawing or painting. I appreciate others that can, and I put 100% during school into my creations- but I knew it wasn’t a natural talent for me. I could spend 10,000 hours in art and I probably would only push my ability from a 2 to a 3 or 4 out of 10 scale. I’m better off focusing on what I’m good to great at- not what is average or below for me.

When a naysayer criticizes something in a skill you know you have talent for, look at the source before you hold on to their negative belief. Professors told me I couldn’t take 4 English classes at the same time in one semester and that would be GPA disaster. When I received a 3.8 out of 4.0 that year, I just wanted to go back to my advisor, stick out my tongue and tell him, “I told you I could do it!”

When it comes to competence and performance- gain the strength to handle the word ‘next’ in your mind when someone throws up a ‘no’ at you. We aren’t perfect, we make mistakes- but with the eye of the tiger we can pick ourselves up off the canvas and begin again, stronger and better for the experience.

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