One of the gifts of scaling my coaching business is that I am in the depths of my own transitional period alongside the clients who hire me to coach them in their own change moments. The tools I create to navigate my transition into full time coaching are applicable to the experiences my clients bring into our sessions.

I am about to cross into the first completed quarter of running my own business full time and I am reflecting on  the lessons I have learned in the first 3 months. In this moment, I am drawn to exploring the cross-section of validation and learning. Some days, I struggle to grasp an answer to the simple question of “am I doing a good job?” In previous careers, I always had a pulse on whether I was doing a good job, but realize now that was dependent on validation from others - anyone outside of me - boss, peers, employees, clients. The path to success - do the project, make the call, complete the pitch - was generally fairly clear and showing up to check the box gave me that “good job” validation. This became even more pronounced in my later years leading a partnerships team tied to a revenue goal.

Coaching has moments of validation, mostly sprinkled in sessions with clients, which admittedly fuel me differently - more deeply - than validation I’ve received in other portions of my career, but receiving praise cannot be the goal of my coaching. If I coach with a focus to receive validation, I stop serving the client. I am not responsible for their change (or the success achieved from their transformation) - they are. I am responsible for showing up courageously as myself, for holding the space for their self-exploration, speaking the hard truth about what I witness, and holding clients to their highest potential. That other, out there, external validation isn’t going to work as the evaluation metric of whether I’m “doing good.” If not validation, then what?


The Four Stages of Competence bring clarity to my success as a coach, a skill I introduce to participants in my Learner’s Mind Workshop. Holding a learner’s mind raises awareness of what I am learning. Understanding how each piece of learning moves along the Four Stages over time, makes my success obvious. I am able to view unexpected roadblocks as gifts to increase what I am learning, I am able to answer the questions of where (not if) I am doing a good job, and I am able to identify areas that would benefit from my focus. I can set goals on what I want to learn and pat myself on the back for dedicating the time and action to obtain those learnings in each stage until they become second nature.

The Four Stages of Competence

  1. Unconscious Incompetence - new learnings. Things uncovered that I do not know (incompetence), but should because they will be impactful.

  2. Conscious Incompetence - once uncovered, I focus on how to gain knowledge or learn the skill highlighted in the first stage. I try, make mistakes, and repeat. This is the training ground.

  3. Conscious Competence - After trial and error, I know how to do something but putting the learning into practice or executing the skill requires a lot of energy. Perseverance is mandatory here.

  4. Unconscious Competence - Enough practice allows these skills to come with ease. The energy freed creates space to uncover more areas of unconscious incompetence to support growth. There is no end destination, just more opportunity to learn.

This metric of learning as a means to evaluate performance is perfect for transitional moments when the bulk of what a client faces is new experiences. For me, embracing the learning metric frees me from my default mindset that things done easily are being done wrong (no, this is unconscious competence). It highlights easy bridges for applying skills I’ve honed in other professional experiences to entrepreneurship and coaching, moving them through conscious competence to unconscious competence. I get clarity on where I am being stretched (unconscious incompetence) and am able to be gentler with myself as I ride the learning curve into conscious incompetence.

This practice also unhooks me from the validation of others. No one outside of myself will see the full story of my experience. Only I have that view. It gives me an opportunity to use those “others” more wisely. Instead of thinking to myself, “where can I go to be told I am on track,” I now think “where can I go to expand my learning” or “where can I go to identify blind spots.” It honors the same relationships, but the result of tapping into those relationships fuels the skills against which I will evaluate myself. I become the primary evaluator of my own success. I gather a lot of experience from others but am able to determine what I chose to incorporate and where I decide to do things differently. Those choices become part of my learning process. That is my success journey.

What are you commited to learning?