Archive for March 2011
Not too long ago I found myself in two very different settings that resulted in similar, uncomfortable results.
In each setting the following scenario played out:
- People were given the opportunity to ask a room full of experts to help them with their businesses. Name any problem with your challenge and we’ll all brainstorm about how to help you.
- More than one person in this situation simply falls into a daze. “I’m not sure what to ask for. I wish people really understood the value of what I bring.” This was then followed by a stammering, flat sales pitch about their business that no one understands.
- Some people are very excited to have the opportunity for feedback, but are simply lost about what they want.
We all need things. In our personal lives, in our community involvement, and in our business lives. We need advice. We need help. We need each other.
But we also need to know how to ask for what we want.
The chances that you will get what you need without asking for it are pretty slim. The world is full of wonderful, helpful people. But it’s just a statistical improbability that someone is going to give you exactly what you need if you can’t even ask for it.
So where do we get stuck? I believe it is rare that we know what we want and can’t find the words to express it. That means the sticking point is a step back from asking: We are stuck because we don’t know what we want. We might know vaguely but not in a precise way that can lead to actions.
For example, you might know that your business is going in the wrong direction. But how can I help you? If your request is, “I want my business to be more successful,” there’s not much I can do to assist you.
If your request were more precise, then I might be able to help. For example:
- “I need to reduce accounts receivable”
- “I need to figure out which marketing is working”
- “I need to determine the right price for a new product”
Each of these is specific enough that someone could actually offer up assistance.
Figuring out what you really want (so you can articulate it for others) is not particularly difficult. But it does take some effort. Once again, I highly recommend sitting quietly and focusing each day on the things that are important in your life. This daily meditation or quiet time can work miracles for you.
Once you can clearly tell the world what you need, the world can begin working to help you get it. You have probably heard the theory that the world conspires to assist you as soon as you decide to do something. Well, one piece of what’s going on there is that YOU are seeing opportunities more clearly because you’ve articulated goals for yourself.
We all want things. We all need things. And we all need to learn how to ask for what we want.
A small boy is sent to bed by his father. Five minutes later: “Da-ad…”
“I’m thirsty. Can you bring a drink of water?”
“No, you had your chance. Lights out.”
Five minutes later: “Da-aaaad…”
“I’m THIRSTY. Can I have a drink of water?”
“I told you NO! If you ask again, I’ll have to spank you!”
Five minutes later: “Daaaa-aaaad…”
“When you come in to spank me, can you bring a drink of water?”
How do you feel about being incompetent? Honestly: Is it good to be incompetent?
I say yes!
I was reading a book recently and one section was about how no one wants to be seen as incompetent. One character in the book was having a crisis of incompetence.
That got me thinking about the times when I have felt the most incompetent. In every case it had to do with a new job or a new role. On my first day, or preparing for my first day, I felt incompetent.
The truth is, I’m NOT competent in most things. The same is true with everyone. At any given time, you are only competent in a few things. They might be related to your job, your hobbies, or the roles you play (parent, spouse, friend, sibling, etc.).
What are you really great at? What are you a little bit good at? Okay. Well, you’re not good at everything else! We are each incompetent about almost everything! And it’s okay.
The reason we feel particularly incompetent in a new job is that we have taken on something and we want to be good at it. So often we find ourselves saying “Well I asked for it!”
You only feel incompetent when it involves something at which you want to feel competent. In other words, the self-awareness of incompetence comes hand in hand with a desire for excellence.
In my life there have been two examples of incompetence that stand above all the rest: My first day as a teacher and my first day as a father. As it turns out, I did a pretty good job in both endeavors.
As a teacher, I had lots of reasons to feel competent. I had credentials, degrees, and many years of experience learning the subject I was going to teach. I was even given guidelines, sample course outlines, reading lists, and all kinds of resources to help in my success.
But I had never done it. I had never run a class for a semester. I had never graded papers or managed a classroom. I had never dealt with assigning deadlines and sticking to them.
And on and on. I had experienced good and bad teaching as a non-teacher.
As a new parent I felt even more incompetent. I had two great role models with my own parents. But I knew nothing about how to do this job myself.
Unlike teaching, I had very little “education” on parenting. I had read a lot about pregnancy and childbirth. My wife and I felt reasonably confident that the birth would go well. And in the final analysis, my role was primarily that of a supporting partner. I didn’t have to eat right, get sick, go through dozens of doctor visits, or do any of the pushing on the day of delivery.
But once my daughter Victoria was born, I was a full participant in the process . . . for the rest of my life.
I remember being particularly struck by the fact that they let us just leave the hospital with this new, tiny baby. “Don’t they know how incompetent I am?”
Of course with parenting, this feeling of incompetence continued for . . . well . . . 18 year so far! I feel more competent in many areas. But every new parent-related challenge has been a first.
The reason we feel so acutely incompetent in some areas in that these are the things that are most important to us. We feel the lack of competence precisely because competence is so important to us.
When I look at the complexity of an aircraft engine, I don’t feel incompetent. But I certainly am. It is overwhelming and annoying and almost miraculous to me. But I have no desire to be good at designing, fixing, or doing anything else with aircraft engines. So while I am supremely incompetent, I don’t feel incompetent.
We need to keep things in perspective. Remember, you only feel incompetent when you seek to be excellent. Incompetence is really a reflection of your desire and commitment to excellence. Being aware of your incompetence is the first step on your road to something amazing in your future!
A man walking down the street noticed a small boy trying to reach the doorbell of a house. Even when he jumped up, he couldn’t quite reach it. The man decided to help the boy, walked up on to the porch and pushed the doorbell.
Then he looked down at the boy who smiled broadly and yelled, “Now run like crazy!”