The cure for unconscious incompetence

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While reading Bret Lott’s new book, Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian, I read the following quote from Flannery O’Connor:

One thing that is always with the writer—no matter how long he has written or how good he is—is the continuing process of learning how to write. As soon as the writer “learns to write,” as soon as he knows what he is going to find, and discovers a way to say what he knew all along, or worse still, a way to say nothing, he is finished. If a writer is any good, what he makes will have its source in a realm much larger than that which his conscious mind can encompass and will always be a greater surprise to him that it can ever be to his reader.

O’Connor is bang-on here. One of the greatest dangers writers—and really anyone who desires to excel in a particular craft—faces is thinking they’ve arrived. They’ve got it all figured out. And in doing so, they become unconsciously incompetent. We see this all the time with big-name authors who essentially start phoning it in whenever they write a new book. They just recycle the same material again and again. There’s no growth, no real hunger apparent. And the work suffers.

But it can also happen when we don’t have people around us who are willing to say, “you need to reconsider what you’re doing.” This is why authors—even great ones—desperately need editors who are willing to be uncompromising about cutting really great material that doesn’t help the story or the thrust of an argument.

And this is also why Christians need real community. If we don’t have people who are willing to come around us and, with genuine love, tell us what they’re seeing in our lives, both good and bad, we risk thinking we’ve got the Christian faith nailed. In doing so, we become, on a spiritual level, unconsciously incompetent. We lose sight of the truth that all of the Christian life is of grace—we start to think we can do it on our own.

But this is silly.

Good friend, good community, tells you the truth for the good of your soul. Do you have this kind of community in your life?

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