Mastering Your Competencies

“Learning to Love the Plateau” – Where Mastery Happens

Developing competencies, particularly getting to the mastery level, does not happen in a straight line with constant improvement.  It usually happens in a rhythm of improvement spurts followed by extended periods on a plateau where improvement doesn’t seem to happen very much.  That requires learning to “love the plateau”, which is one of the keys to life. 

That means valuing and focusing on what’s called “right practice” vs. consistent obvious improvement.  It means trusting that, if you continue to work at it, another spurt of improvement will come – although you probably won’t be able to see it coming.  

Essential to “learning to love the plateaus” is dealing with the inevitable failures and disappointments that are part of developing competencies.  They are a natural – and inescapable – part of the process, so the key is learning from them and getting stronger vs. being discouraged or diminished.

Perhaps we will never know how far the path can go, how much a human being can truly achieve, until we realize that the ultimate reward is not a gold medal, but the path itself.

George Leonard,

Habits and Practice are Key – “Oh, No”

This is one of those good news/bad news things. 

The good news is that habits and practice are within your control, but the bad news is that you have to develop them with some dedicated practice

 as the good ones don’t form themselves and the bad ones sneak in easily and are hard to get rid of.

“First we develop our habits and then our habits develop us.”


The Keys to Mastering Your Competencies

Developing competencies is a life-long quest.  As an adult, you will be challenged to develop or master new competencies.  As a teenager, you have an extraordinary number of competencies to develop that are thrown at you, which is obviously intimidating, but also an opportunity.

The opportunity as a teenager is to engage fully in pursuing those competencies because (1) you will prepare yourself to be a successful young woman or man and (2) you will develop the ability and confidence to continue to build or master competencies as an adult. 

OK, Good or Master?
Fortunately, you don’t have to master every competency.  Most competencies you just have to get good at – or even just OK.  A few you will truly want to master. 

Understanding the path to mastery, however, is useful regardless of the level of competence you want.  It’s the same path.  It’s just a matter of how far down the path you want to go.

The Rhythm of Mastery
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” – where progress flattens out – and that’s where it is very easy to get discouraged, cut back on the practice and maybe even give up.

It's hard to beat a person who never gives up.


The Improvement Happens on the Plateaus
The weird thing about this is that the improvement happens on the plateaus, when we are often frustrated or discouraged.  The work done on the plateaus, when it seems like nothing is developing, then shows up in the spurts of improved performance. 

This pattern is a natural part of the heroic journey, so expect it and don’t be discouraged by it.  During the work on the plateaus the competencies are building – even if it isn’t obvious. 

What we call “mastery” can be defined as that mysterious process through which what is at first difficult or even impossible, becomes easy and pleasurable through diligent, patient, long-term practice.

George Leonard, Way of