The definition of incompetence is the inability to do something successfully; ineptitude. The simple inability to do something doesn’t bother me, it’s when the individual either has been in a position to learn how to do the task and still can’t do it, the individual pretends they know how to do something that they really can’t, OR the worst is when someone makes a mistake and doesn't own up to it and apologize! I began to expect incompetence, and the more I expected it, the more I saw it all around me.
I began to wonder, had society simply lowered its expectations of service and knowledge (read the post, Why Can’t Things Be Easier?) Or was it because people were so distracted by all the inputs in life that they couldn’t focus on any one task long enough to master it? Or was it because helicopter parenting and the everyone-gets-a-trophy mentality had stopped us from being challenged or encouraged to do our best work? Wow, I was getting cynical, and it bothered me. How could I change my attitude and my pet peeve?
"How could I change my attitude and my pet peeve?"
I began to realize that being annoyed all the time and maintaining a disdain for perceived incompetence was taking a lot of my energy - energy I needed to be competent in my own life. My eyes were opened to my own feelings of incompetence - at work, as a parent, and simply as a 30-something woman. It's bad enough to have that feeling about myself, but to think of the rest of the world not cutting me any slack (because I surely wasn't giving anyone else the benefit of the doubt), well that was just depressing!
A few months ago, I had what many would describe as a very frustrating experience at a doctor's office, but instead of being angry and spewing the story of incompetence to anyone who would listen, I felt calm and had no negative feelings toward the person who made the mistake. I looked back and wondered, had I really grown that much as a person that I could overlook the issue, or was there some other reason? I rehashed the events in my mind....
My baby (6 years old at the time) had his tonsils out, and recovery was going well - until the pain medication prescription ran out. We went to the ENT's office to see what could be done. The kind and gentle nurse practitioner took her time examining my little whimpering puddle of pain and explaining the options to me, his mommy whose heart was breaking a little more with each crocodile tear. She ended with prescribing more Tylenol with codeine for the pain and had to write a physical prescription because the pharmacies wouldn't accept an electronic script for that type of medication (which still perplexes me...)
I had the forethought to call our regular pharmacy (which was near our home, a 30 minute drive from the doctor's office) from the clinic's parking lot to make sure they had the medicine in stock. It's a good thing I called, because they did not have it, and they referred us to another pharmacy in their chain near our doctor's office. We drove there and traipsed through the store to the back where the pharmacy counter was and stood in line only to be told that they didn't have the medication either. They referred us to yet another pharmacy where we repeated the process and heard from that pharmacist, "Sorry, none here." By this time I was beginning to wonder what was going on that no pharmacy in town had this not-very-exotic medication.
I called the pharmacy at the clinic where our doctor's office was located (why didn't I just go there in the first place, you ask? Well, I was certainly asking myself the same question at this point!) They said they had it! My son was still in a lot of pain as we retraced our steps back to where we started from. As soon as I showed the pharmacist that piece of paper, she immediately knew what the issue was. The nurse practitioner had checked the box on the prescription pad that said NO substitutions allowed, so since all of pharmacies stocked only the generic, they couldn't fill the prescription as it was written.
We went upstairs to the doctor's office, and I asked to see the nurse practitioner to get a new prescription. After just a few minutes she raced out from the back waving the new prescription. She immediately said she was so sorry that she'd made the mistake and admitted that she didn't often write physical prescriptions any more and had simply checked the wrong box. She empathized with me and my son saying she could only imagine what we'd gone through trying to get the medicine to make him feel better and she was so sorry she'd caused him extra time in pain. I found myself assuring HER that it was OK and telling HER not to worry.
We quickly got the prescription filled and immediately gave him a dose. As we drove home and he finally fell asleep after getting some relief, I realized that I didn't get angry or label the nurse practitioner as incompetent because she had taken her time and treated us with kindness during our appointment, then when presented with her mistake, she quickly apologized, took responsibility, empathized, did what was necessary to correct the situation, and apologized again. I would recommend this nurse practitioner in a heartbeat because of how she handled the situation.
"Expect the best until proven wrong."
I'm now trying hard not to quickly label others as incompetent, but to rather give them them benefit of the doubt. I want to try to look at situations - and the people in them - differently. I want to try to encourage those who I would typically consider inept to learn more, try harder, and become experts. I want to build up those around me who are feeling insecure about their abilities. What if instead of fueling insecurity by complaining or berating people for not knowing it all, producing enough, or doing it fast enough, I focused on fostering understanding and mutual respect and educating about why things matter to me and to others?
I’m choosing to change my pet peeve, so you’re going to have to REALLY mess up before I label you incompetent from now on! You may wonder what re-framing how I look at incompetence has to do with a life in order - to me it has everything to do with it! Before I can improve myself, become more efficient and focused on my priorities, I have to quit wasting my energy fretting about or ruminating on things I can't control, and I must change my mindset to focus less on the negative. I now try to live by the motto, “expect the best until proven wrong.”
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!