In the competency stakes there are several stages to achieving mastery. To understand this is to understand your value and what you must do to maintain it. As you become more capable the ground will likely shift as you realize what it means.
Consider the cobbler starting as an apprentice. When he begins his indentures, even the smallest task needs someone to teach him the skills. He is understandably quite unaware of how to even approach competency, let alone what it may look like.
You might say he is unconsciously incompetent. But his next stage, not surprisingly, is being conscious of his incompetence as he accepts, on faith, what his mentor and teachers say he still needs to know.
Once he develops skills he moves to an unconscious state once again as he makes it. But it still takes time and effort for it to sink in that he is is actually there. Consciousness does not return until the next emancipating stage clicks in, which may well be the point that sees him graduating as a qualified craftsman.
But what of the final stage to achieve mastery?
That is often a huge step that many don’t even take. Those who do, know it is the level where they achieve completely an initiative competence to do it right every time without even thinking about it. Or to follow our thread, a master is one who has achieved the absolute state of Unconscious Competence.
By now, if our cobbler has made it, he will likely find he is in high demand as people come to know of him from far and wide as a master of making good footwear.
But here is the dilemma. To continue to be a master may limit him as others watch what he does and come up to speed to compete. In effect, they level the playing field so boot making is then just a commodity skill. So unless he can find a way to leverage his mastery and grow again, he will likely regress to mediocrity.
One way may be to become a great designer or a branded business man which means learning a new craft. Doing what it takes to leverage the name he has established when he first achieved mastery is a new apprenticeship he must take on. But this time the stakes are much higher.
Hence mastery for some is the end, as they seek out mediocrity or an alternative to escape the competitive stakes that come with aspiring to be good. Sadly that is what so many of us are comfortable to do.
The true master however, knows you must start at the bottom to learn to be good at your craft. Once done, doing it again is a wonderfully humbling stage of learning something new from the bottom again, so you can stay on top. In the knowledge of having done it at least once before, it is also quite easy as you know it is just a process.
Awareness too, of the unconscious stages and what they look like, allows you to move more effortlessly through them, often being your own mentor. By then you know that mastery is a continuous process that needs only dedication and focus to achieve the boundless limits that can be achieved if you want to.
Footnote: My learning on the mastery distinctions came from leadership management courses run by a quite brilliant mentoring colleague, John Lonergan, in our days at Colonial Mutual . John’s source was material from the US Gordon Training International Organization founded by Dr.Thomas Gordon, himself a master and a renowned author of nine books and who had developed far reaching material on leadership and competency theories.