The Obscuring Nature of Competency


One of the things I’ve been looking forward to since buying my first iPod is sharing music with friends. My only obstacle is lack of musical expertise exacerbated by 3 years with little more than car radio experience. But other than that, I’m revved and ready.

A few days ago, I told Friend Shasta that she had to listen to a song that I’ve been crushing on lately: a Christina Perri song called “If I Die Young”

… a song that doesn’t exist.

Kimberly Perry, on the other hand, sings lead vocals for The Band Perry, which has a song called “If I Die Young”.

Clearly, I am incompetent.

I so wanted to show Shasta something new and awesome so that she’d be impressed with my musical knowledge and love me more.

I’ve always been like this. When I was in high school, Ludacris came out with a really inappropriate song that I hated. So naturally, I learned all of the lyrics :”I wanna li-li-li-lick you from your head to your toes…” yeah – it’s pretty bad. I learned them before any of my friends knew about the song so that they would recognize how completely impressive I was.


On a semi-regular basis, people ask me if I miss softball. Usually, it’s my mom asking, and she wants me to affirm that the decade it consumed our lives wasn’t wasted. She’d like for me to coach again at the high school I work at because there’s oh-so-much I can teach the youngsters.

My response to her is always the same: I wall up and close off, and explain that softball was an idol for me. I can’t go back to it. I can’t coach. I can’t play slow-pitch – the last time I did, I got pissed at a guy who was running the bases recklessly. He assumed that I was incompetent on the field because I’m a girl… so I got the ball, chased him down, tackled him, and got him out.

That’s why I tell my mom that I can never play again. Sure, I love hitting a bucket of balls every now and then, and I’d love to play a game with my closest friends

… but to anyone who thinks I ought to do anything more than that, IT’S AN IDOL.

My dad was never caught up in it the way my mom and I were. I’m sure he loved how good I was at it and the promise of college scholarships, but he didn’t bathe in it. He practiced with me for a couple of hours every day, but went home to other things, while my mom and I sat down to plan out every pitch of whatever tournament was up next.

That’s why I gave him a more genuine answer when he asked me the same question my mom’s been asking for years.

“Do you miss it?”

When I think about it, I don’t know that I loved softball all that much. What I loved was the respect and admiration I received because of it. Coaches for really good teams invited me to attend Nationals even when my team didn’t qualify. Reporters asked which University I’d signed with before I’d even been on an official visit. Parents advised their players to become friends with me. Little girls pointed out that my name was the same as theirs and I was a pitcher… and they wanted to pitch.

“It was really fun to be adored and admired. That’s what I miss,” I told my dad. “I miss having an area of competency.”

Without It

When you think about it, pretty much every person has an area of competency. Sure, we emphasize different competencies when we’re around different people. When I’m at work, faculty members want to talk about running because they see it as my area of competency. My writer friends want to talk about books and manuscripts. My geeky friends want to talk about graphic novels and Star Trek. People I’ve just met ask me about teaching. But whichever area of competency we start with defines the relati0nship. It defines me.

The thing is, I actually feel like I don’t have an area of competency at all. Of course I was better at softball than I’ll ever be as a runner or a geek, but it’s more than that. It isn’t that I’m not good at things – it’s more like I’m just not the go-to expert on anything… and I’m starting to think that’s a good thing.

Competency obscures the truth. It obscures our perceptions of people.

When I played softball and talked about it all the time, people didn’t see Katie… they saw KJ – softball queen extraordinaire. Which was okay with me. As long as people looked at softball, they saw something I was good at. They were impressed.

It’s a much more authentic thing to NOT have an area of competency – to stop impressing

to be Katie even when Katie is a failure.


7 thoughts on “The Obscuring Nature of Competency

  1. I’m kind of an idiot when it comes to music and movies so I feel your pain there.

    My friends, who are readers but not writers, often ask me for book recommendations because I know so much about them. But sometimes when I talk to industry professionals, I feel like I know so little. And I know it’s kinda strange, but I love the duality of that. I relish it.

  2. Even if there may always be areas in which you are incompetent, there will be just as many areas–if not more–in which you can guide others. 🙂

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