Medicine is a profession in which we never stop learning. So is coaching. It’s one of many things I love about it, so I enthusiastically signed up to learn a new coaching program. In the first class, I volunteered to coach one of my colleagues in front of the group – I decided I may as well jump right in, as one learns to play better on the field than from the side lines. I barely had a few words out of my mouth when our mentor coach interrupted with a suggestion. I followed her lead and then – there she was again – interrupting and offering her version. As an experienced physician, I’m used to feeling confident about my interactions with patients. Did the mentor think I was a bad coach? Had I done something wrong? Fortunately, a mindfulness practice helped me hold those thoughts up to the light and evaluate their truth.
When we’re learning anything, we have to expect that we won’t excel immediately. As the saying goes, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly.” It’s worth the effort and discomfort as we work though awkward learning stages to improve our abilities. Giving up during this period of struggle, or allowing ourselves to be derailed by a story about the limitations of our capabilities, prevents us from learning and growing. It ignores our many, as yet undeveloped, talents.
Given that learning is accomplished through a series of instruction, practice, and feedback, we can thank those who offer critiques of our performance. They do us a favor by providing this assessment of our work, even if it doesn’t always feel good. As we move from unconscious incompetence (we blissfully don’t know how unskilled we are) to conscious competence (we’re confident in our ability), we go through a period of conscious incompetence when we are painfully aware that our efforts fall short of our intentions.
As I examined my feelings about my mentor’s interruptions and the concerns they raised about my abilities, I knew I was right where I should be – in that unpleasant place where I didn’t yet have the skills I was working to gain. A perfectionist at heart, I needed a perspective that would help me tolerate this discomfort while I continued to learn. Malcolm Gladwell reminds us that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery with a new activity. Woo hoo! I now had one less hour to go. I focused on the many successes my clients have already had and realized this new approach would provide even greater benefit – icing on the cake. And then I accepted the fact that my love of learning means I will always be in some uncomfortable zone of incompetence as I continually add to my skill set.
The landscape of my life and career had shifted from the stress of performance to the joy of adventure and exploration. I hope you will join me here – the possibilities are endless and the experience is thrilling.