Accepting incompetence

It can be tough to accept when we’re at the limits of our abilities and ask for help. This is especially true when we’re faced with high expectations, demands of our time and limited resources.

Plus, it can be a real struggle to balance our desire to be independent with our need for help.

No one wants to admit incompetence, and yet no one is competent at everything.

When I first started working as a nurse practitioner, I was the primary care provider for over 700 clients. It didn’t take me long to recognize that I was in over my head. When I realized I couldn’t competently care for some of my more complex clients, I identified who they were and worked with my team to transfer care to other providers who could help these clients better than I could at the time.

Finding a solution was the easy part. The hard part was admitting incompetence and getting help.

And so we have a choice:

  1. We can ignore our incompetence and act as if we know what we’re doing (when we don’t). Or,
  2. We can acknowledge it, accept it, talk about it and seek resources to help us become more competent.

Asking for help puts us at risk for being judged and feeling vulnerable – there’s an even greater risk if we hide our incompetence and pretend it’s not an issue. 

It’s not easy to confess when we can’t do something or when we don’t know something. But being honest with ourselves, the people we work with and the people we care for is the best thing we can do.

Faking competence for the sake of what other people think just isn’t worth it, and rarely makes things better.