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Stages of Mastery

If you’re like me, you enjoy learning new things. But you also realize that you're not going to be good at those things . . . at least in the beginning. 

I took up singing a few years ago on a whim. That was a great idea until I had to perform on stage.

Until then I had been happily basking in the first stage of learning development: unconscious incompetence. I had no idea how bad I was!

Standing there on stage with parched lips, lights in my eyes and several hundred faces before me, I was thrust into the second stage of learning: conscious incompetence. I was suddenly aware: this singing thing was harder than I thought. Get me out of here! 

This second stage is where most of us get stopped. (Don’t!)

Somehow I kept going. Little did I know that only 6 months later, I would be performing on stage at Los Angeles Disney Concert Hall with Michael Bublé. No kidding! (Well, as part of a 100-person back-up chorus). Bu.urT2WH .blog-post-title-colort, I figured, if I was good enough to be on the same stage as him, I couldn’t be all that bad! 

This is the third stage of learning many of us have experienced: conscious competence. You’re good and you know it. Surprisingly, this is where people get stopped as well. They become complacent. “Why work harder when I can just get by?”

It’s worth reaching the fourth stage of learning: unconscious competence because then it seems effortless: mastery. Michael Bublé is so good he doesn’t even have to try.


You’ve probably been through these four stages at some point in your life and career. Whether you’re starting a new business venture or pursuing a personal dream, the first stage is certainly the most fun: blissful ignorance! But eventually you move through the next three stages and get really good at what you’re doing until, one day, it will seem effortless, too. 

And then, with all the struggle in the rearview mirror, you can take on your next learning challenge and start the process all over again.

One thing is certain: moving through the boundaries between phases is where you need most support. If you have a significant goal you are striving to toward, a coaching relationship might help.

Below is a 2-minute video with more detail.

Please share your experience in the comments when you went through some (or all of these stages): what worked for you and what didn't.


As an executive coach, I work with leaders to transform their influence and impact on their organizations and the world. You can reach me at


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