When You're Consciously Incompetent
Jedi Training and starting small in the learning journey
Sabine Wren is stuck. In Star Wars’ new live-action series, Ahsoka, this plucky young Mandalorian is training under a profoundly powerful Force-user named Ahsoka Tano to be a Jedi. Here’s the kicker: Sabine is awful at this and clearly untalented. She has a connection to the Force, like any other living thing, but unlike most Jedi learners in Star Wars, Sabine can barely feel it. She is self-sufficient, and she can fight like any good Mandalorian, but she is also very prideful. It hurts Sabine deeply that she is so bad at this. Training under Ahsoka is humiliating, and even Ahsoka’s droid who has witnessed Jedi training for generations can’t help but point out that Sabine is the most untalented student he has ever seen.
The Four Phases of Learning
In Episode 3 of Ahsoka, the training has gone into full swing. Sabine can barely feel anything when it comes to the Force. She can’t move a cup and she can’t sense her surroundings when doing training combat with a blindfold on. Remember Luke Skywalker in Episode IV: A New Hope? He caught onto this very quickly working with Obi-Wan Kenobi.
“Talent is a factor,” says Ahsoka, “But training and focus are what truly define someone's success.”
Sabine is currently going nowhere in her training. She is consciously incompetent. After a very frustrating session for Sabine, Ahsoka says to her with a cup on the table between them, “Start small.”
Phase 1: Unconscious incompetence (you don’t know what you don’t know)
Phase 2: Conscious incompetence (you suck and you know it)
Phase 3: Conscious competence (to perform well you have to focus hard)
Phase 4: Unconscience competence (you can do this shit in your sleep)
Sabine is in Phase 2, and it really holds her back. It pains Sabine how unnatural the Force is for her. She comes from a warrior race, and she’s a classic “strong female lead” type character, so the shame of being untalented stings just a little more. She bears the weight of pride.
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Big Dreams Are Good, But You Need Stepping Stones
I’m watching Liz Bohannon speak right this very moment in Chicago, and I watched the latest episode of Ahsoka just last night. It’s kind of remarkable the overlap here. Bohannon says that for a MASTER to truly flourish, they have to reach Phase 4 of Unconscience Competence, BUT BUT BUT, then choose to re-enter the cycle of learning throughout life. That means you don’t get content at the top of the ladder. A true master searches for the thing they don’t know anything about and embraces the killing of ego that comes from starting over.
They must have big dreams, big goals, or a vision. Often that comes in the form of hugely evil foes who must be defeated to save the galaxy. Villains push heroes to new heights by necessity.
For those of us without Space Hitlers to fight, we need a big dream.
But here’s the thing about Learners, the Padawan or Student….the big dream for them is often a wet blanket. It’s too big and too heavy. They want to be a mighty warrior, a Skywalker, Hercules, or a Dragon Slayer!!! And when the Learner can’t even do the basics of saber combat, it is demoralizing.
So what does Liz Bohannon remind all of us in the audience to do if want to become Masters?
In a future post, we’ll go a little deeper on Mastery and how to re-enter the cycle of learning and discovery, from Ahsoka’s perspective. But I for one saw a lot of myself in Sabine, just struggling with the basics and being mad about it.
Conscious incompetence is the toughest place to be. But the way out is curiosity, humility and focusing on small wins.
This is the way.
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