I’m a reasonably competent photographer, but when I was a professional photographer for seven years, there was always a nagging anxiety that I have to be competent.
It has many facets. First of all it is assuming that “I’m not competent,” and that “I should be competent.” And it may also include thoughts like, “I don’t know how to be more competent,” or “I can’t be more competent.”
This can be a depressing, or anxiety-producing, mix of thoughts. It’s an internal war with two opposing sides: I should be more competent and I’m not more competent. In other words, I’m arguing with myself, which uses a huge amount of energy.
This internal distraction quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as energy gets sucked out of productivity into worry, nervousness, and self-attack.
I love to question the literal thoughts that are running through my mind, especially when they’re stressful. For this I use a simple method of self-inquiry called The Work of Byron Katie (The Work).
I would literally question:
I have to be competent.
I’m not competent.
I should be competent.
I don’t know how to be more competent.
I can’t be more competent.
When I do this work, I often find that what I thought was true, is not true. And what I thought should happen is actually not necessary at all.
I’ve done a lot of questioning of stressful thoughts around being competent over the years using The Work. And it has left me in a different space from where I was when I was a wedding photographer and a nature photographer, and even in my beginning years of being a facilitator of The Work of Byron Katie professionally.
I used to put so much pressure on myself. Now I don’t. Because I don’t believe those thoughts anymore. Or rarely do.
I was sitting face to face with the Byron Katie, the founder of The Work, whom I look up to and admire for her clarity, honesty, and humility. She’s also my teacher, which means that I sometimes put her in a position of authority in my mind.
In the dream, she was looking directly at me and said something like, “I sense a lot of non-clarity in you.” And later she said, “You’re incompetent.”
Coming from my teacher and someone I respect, this should have been devastating for me. If I were the “me” before I had questioned my thinking about being competent, I would have become defensive, pushing her away, reactive, etc. But I didn’t.
Instead, I said something like, “I’m totally incompetent and unclear inside in so many ways. I just don’t believe anymore that I have to be competent.” It felt so peaceful to simply be incompetent, exposed in whatever way I was exposed to her without a need to cover up.
Without the thought, “I have to be competent,” there was no shame. No disconnection.
In this space, I’m always learning, always open to becoming more competent in the areas where I’m not competent. But there’s no fear in it, and no shame in it, and no pressure in it.
I don’t make any claims this way. And I don’t have expectations that I can’t live up to. I literally don’t have to be competent. It is the most freeing way to run a business, or to learn a sport, or to work through any new challenge that life gives me.
When I don’t expect myself to be competent, I can just be myself.
No one can do The Work for you. It’s up to you to learn how to question your thoughts, and to do so. All it takes is an open mind to try it out.
I also find that The Work of Byron Katie is a practice. That’s partly what I mean when I think of The Work as meditation. I have done The Work nearly every day as part of my routine since 2007. And with practice it continues to deepen.
If you want to start a practice of The Work, or just want to learn deeply how do The Work, I invite you to participate in my online course, The Work 101.