6. Core Challenge #3: Developing Competencies

“The Technical Challenge”

What do I need to be able to do to succeed as a teenager and as an adult? What knowledge must I gain, what skills must I develop, what attitude or approach to life must I develop?

As a teenager you get thrown into a world where there is a wide and sometimes intimidating range of competencies to be developed. Some are intellectual competencies, some are physical competencies and some are emotional/social competencies. 

Examples of Competencies of Different Types to be Developed

Taking Care of Myself

  • Self-care—staying healthy
  • Self-management 
  • Managing emotions
  • Managing stress and disappointment—becoming resilient
  • Learning how to learn
  • Planning and decision making
  • Managing risks
  • Managing personal finances
  • Mastering technology

Relating to Others

  • Communication skills
  • Being assertive
  • Empathy
  • Developing teams (or just being a good team member)
  • Collaborating with others
  • Dealing with conflict
  • Forming, maintaining or ending relationships
  • Leadership

Course Content and Skills

  • Knowledge bases, critical thinking and communications skills
  • Why people and nations do what they do (english, history and…)
  • How the natural world works (chemistry, physics, environmental Science and…)
  • The universal language (math)
  • The new language (digital technology and…)
  • Communicating and relating across cultures (languages, world affairs and…)

These are just examples and they are all competencies you will need as an adult—and hopefully continue to develop as an adult. You get a crash course in them as a teenager. It’s not like you can focus on a couple and get them handles and then move on to the next couple. No, they pretty much all come at the same time. 

If it seems daunting and sometimes overwhelming—there is nothing wrong with you, as it is daunting and sometimes overwhelming. That’s just the nature of the journey you are on. 

The key is to actively pursue mastering these skills and enjoy the learning process. The heroic journey is about becoming the author of your life and competency building is a good arena in which to practice that. Some of these competencies are taught in school—classes, teams, clubs. Many are not. Your challenge is to loom beyond what is being presented to you and identify where you can go to develop more of these skills—be the author.

For example, with the internet you don’t need to wait for courses to start mastering these skills. There are resources online that can at least give you an overview of the skills and how to pursue them. In most communities there are also workshops and courses and seminars that are available. Most of them are not aimed directly at teenagers, but many are appropriate and classes of adults really like having teenagers involved because of the different perspective you bring. You would be welcomed in the vast majority of cases. 


The Process of Mastery

Remember that this is a journey and journeys happen over time – and they happen because we keep putting one foot in front of the other. Mastering these competencies also happens over time and with practice. Competency doesn’t happen without practice, so try to see practice as a valuable activity that gets you what you want—not just something that you have to do. As hard as it is to feel warm and fuzzy about homework, homework is a form of practice that leads to mastery.

The pursuit of mastery also benefits from having people who can teach, coach, mentor, tutor and generally support you. It also helps to have companions. In other words, mastery is a team sport.

“Learning to Love the Plateau” 

The biggest danger in pursuing mastery is getting discouraged. There are always times on the heroic journey when discouragement, sometimes even hopelessness, intrudes and that can sidetrack or end a journey if we aren’t ready. The keys are (1) to realize that mastery has a rhythm to it and (2) we have to “learn to love the plateau” and trust our practice.

The rhythm of mastery includes times when our competency seems to be developing rapidly and it gets exciting as we make leaps. The practice obviously pays off. The natural rhythm of mastery also includes times when improvement just doesn’t seem to be happening—even when we practice as hard as ever. That’s the plateau and that’s where it is very easy to get discouraged, cut back on the practice and maybe even give up.

It is on those plateaus where we basically have to trust in the process and in our practice and keep going even without the encouragement that obvious improvement provides. If we do, we almost always come to the next period of leaps in competency—and probably won’t be able to see it coming.

This pattern is a natural part of the heroic journey, so expect it and don’t be discouraged by it.

 "History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats."
– B.C. Forbes

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