Tech Life A pleasantly aspirational idea

The Illusion of Competence

My favorite moment playing hockey is literally a moment. The puck gets passed to me just behind the net, I look up across and I ask myself a simple question, “Hmmm, what am I going to do here?”

In less than an instant, I do the following:

  • Who are the two closest players on the opposing team? What is my impression of them? What are their weakness?
  • What is the right path to start my approach? Charge down the middle? Hang right? Hang left? What are likely obstacles in each direction?
  • How fast? Sprint now or wait until I have more data?

And I execute. Cut back behind the net because Eli, their forward is sloppy at right turns and is left-handed. Sprint — because there is room mid-rink.

The plan is never executed as I expect because in hockey everything changes in a moment. So I get to do it all again “Hmmm, what am I going to do here?” Melissa, my forward, is ahead of the play and, wow, can she skate, but remember – left handed. Lead her a bit and then bolt to her left because she’s going to need an outlet pass in about seven seconds.

The outside observer sees none of this. They see a singular fluid motion as I travel from one end of the rink to the next, they nod their head and think, “He makes it look so easy.”

Let’s be abundantly clear. I am a nerd and that means for most of junior high and high school, the idea of team sports gave me the shakes. I much preferred the anonymous confident solitude of video games and BBSes. I ran cross country and I did some swimming, but neither of those involved anything resembling teamwork. You ran, you swam. Someone added up the points and declared a school the winner.

Do you know what I did in order to appear competent at hockey? I played a lot of fucking hockey — for years. Now, I do have NADD which means I have a singular ability to apply myself to understanding a thing, but it was still months before I could skate with any sort of competence and it was years before I performed anything resembling a move on the rink.

That’s the illusion of competence. By making it look easy, you fool them into thinking it’s not hard. And that’s a pleasantly aspirational idea. The idea that there is somehow magic that is going on to make the complex simple.

But it’s always hard work.