The first few weeks or months in a new role are very much a learning curve, which, as is usually the case with any learning experience, will send you through a string of different emotions: you may start out feeling rather anxious, then excited, quickly followed by feeling overwhelmed and finally comfortable.
Sound familiar? That’s because when it comes to learning a new skill and building our competence, we go through what seems to be a universal emotional experience. This process is set out in the so-called ‘Conscious Competence Ladder’: a model developed in the 1970s that identifies four key levels that we move through when learning: #1 Unconsciously Incompetent #2 Consciously Incompetent #3 Consciously Competent and #4 Unconsciously Competent.
The model looks at both your skill level and your awareness of your skill level.
It starts with the status quo: Unconsciously Incompetent. At this level, you lack knowledge in a specific area and you’re unaware of it.
Level 2: Consciously Incompetent is where you realise you are lacking that knowledge and start developing it. This is where you really have to put in the work and may start feeling overwhelmed. When you finally push through it though, you will reach
Level 3: Consciously Competent. You now have acquired the knowledge you need and are aware that you have. However, you’re still learning and won’t use your skills effortlessly until you reach
Level 4: Unconsciously Competent.
Being aware of how you learn and understanding which level of learning you are at can be helpful in a number of ways. For one, it can help you stay motivated throughout the learning process. So for example, recognising that you’re in the Consciously Incompetent phase and that you’ll soon see your hard work pay off can help pull you through if you’re starting to feel disheartened.
It can also help you manage expectations, both of your own success and that of others; understanding which level you (or someone you work with) are on will stop you from expecting and pushing for too much too soon.
Starting a new role may not be without its challenges but it’s worth remembering that you’re expected to learn and develop at this stage, and while that overwhelming feeling may not feel very good at the time, it’s a sign that you’ve recognised what you need to work on and are therefore well on your way to owning your new job.
And don’t forget that you’re likely to climb the Conscious Competence Ladder again and again throughout your career and personal life. Embrace it and see it for what it is: a sign that you’re moving forward and becoming a more knowledgeable, experienced and competent person.