The Thrill of Incompetence

Incompetence – How do I Love Thee?

Very few people understand what I mean about choosing incompetence. Each time I’ve completely changed careers, I’ve intentionally put myself in the position of being the least competent person in the room. Most of us work to attain a level of competence in a given field of work or study. We take pride in accomplishments along the way, get promotions or raises, or recognition for getting better at the thing we do. Not too many of us decide to jump off one ladder and start over at the bottom of another. I’ve chosen more times than most. It doesn’t feel all that great all the time, either. Those in one sphere are suspicious of someone who comes from another. “Who does she think she is? She’s never done this before!” “She’s either an idiot or brilliant, if it’s the latter, is she out to get my job?” It’s natural, I suppose to be wary of people who aren’t an obvious fit. It’s a great sense of pride, almost unequaled by other accomplishments when later, one of those insiders says “You’re one of the best I’ve worked with in this position and you didn’t know any of this when you started.” When you learn something new (not just fake your way through) but actually prove yourself, your new competence, in ways that others recognize, you have mastered that ladder-climb again. Think of the joy on a child’s face when they realize they’ve taken their first steps or ridden their bike with no training wheels for the first time.

Architecture that Brings Out Child-like Experience

Gins Arakawa House

From fear, to joy, to insight – this is the kind of progression you may see as that toddler takes her first steps. In this wild architectural example, you can see a similar progression. Architecture that defies convention, if not death. This article and slideshow are fascinating. Setting aside the “provocateur” nature of edge artists such as Gins and Arakawa, the concepts driving their work are so profound. It’s about unsettling us from the familiar, shaking things up in a way that enables us to approach the world as a child, with fresh eyes. Pay attention to the elderly in Japan who first experienced the Arakawa-Gins architecture there. Anyone with a Grandma nearby or in recent memory will be concerned about trips and falls on an uneven floor. They encouraged elder residents to begin on hands and knees, if necessary. The older residents became more physically active and able to navigate the challenging terrain. The CDC warns us that obesity and sedentary lifestyles cause many life-shortening illnesses. 12% of adults over the age of 75 get the minimum level of physical activity recommended by the CDC. Obviously, this is a dramatic example, and no one would suggest suddenly throwing granny out of her wheelchair and into this house. Tossing grandpa’s walker in favor of the undulating floor, no. But, what would happen if we shifted the paradigm earlier? If we didn’t resign ourselves to the “fact” that aging=death? Other cultures have fully functional elders because it’s not in their mindset that it should be otherwise. Even here, we are loathe to admit that people could have great skills, creativity, value later in life. Travel, new hobbies, love lives? Pshaw we say, not my grandma! Well guess what, maybe we’re wrong.

Breaking Barriers in Food

Profound epiphanies can be ours to experience if we allow ourselves to be unsettled. This is the power of groundbreaking chefs like Ferrán Adrià . While the moniker “molecular gastronomy” began to be debated, I raised a point I thought others might be overlooking. Even editor Tanya Steel remarked that I’d opened her eyes to a new way of thinking about this. Check her comments and my post here. He uses unfamiliar techniques but presents familiar flavors. The result is that someone can experience something like the flavor of spring peas for the first time again. Defying time by letting us have a second first impression. I’ve had this sort of conversation with people about why I love to travel. (Interesting that Adrià himself closes his famed El Bulli restaurant several months of the year to travel because it refreshes his focus and invigorates him. To me, few things are as exhilirating as waking up in a new place with no predictions about what you’ll experience that day. New tastes, new scenes, new sounds, new smells. Usually, when I get to this point, someone is either nodding enthusiastically or checked out.

Pushing Physical Boundaries, and Mental Limitations

Dean Potter

When I read about parkour, a new sport (also known as ) that defies our conventional thinking about our bodies’ ability to move through space, I was thrilled in the same way. The new sport uses some of the same principles, call it mind over matter. “How untethered from the earth can we be?” is one of the questions you hear them raise in the videoclip in this article. The articles on the sport are full of the philosophical observations like those that underlie the Arakawa-Gins architectural philosophy, and the cooking of Ferran Adria. Keeping open to the “what if” potential in our lives is not always comfortable and safe, but it is one of the surest ways to feel alive. Even if we never cross a canyon on a high-wire, live in a house with undulating floors, or eat foams or pearls…keeping our minds open to the insights in such experiences will help us to actually live our lives fully, not just let time pass.

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Whether it's Food & Cooking, Sports, Film, Travel or the Business of Writing can find it all through this page. Use this sidebar and the links below to go directly to whatever strikes your fancy. Jacqueline Church's Facebook profile

Where I’ve been seen, published, cited, syndicated…

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Mark Your Calendars

August 22 - Courtney Hunt's acclaimed film Frozen River at the Coolidge Corner. See Diversions for more.

Caught my eye…

  • The Audubon Insectarium opens in New Orleans. See Getting Down with All that Skitters.
  • Copper River Salmon is so hot, even E!online is commenting on the stars who eat it. Taye Diggs was digging it.
  • Vertical farms? Colbert meets Ethicureans...heaven is for those with humor and ethics, yes? Interesting food for thought here....

On Women and Work

Read my contributions to The Glass Hammer a new blog for executive women.


  1. Tales of the Cocktail may be over but the fun continues. Check the blogs and podcasts for all the news that fit to drink!
  2. The Maori art of facial tatooing is called moko. It is a powerful expression of tribal identity which has only recently enjoyed a resurgence as the colonial Christian prohibitions against it have lessened. Go to the Peabody Essex Museum for this rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of this amazing cultural tradition. The documentary I saw at Sundance years ago on moko, was one of the most powerful films I have ever seen.
  3. The Audubon Insectarium is a new and top-notch attraction in New Orleans. We passed by it and wondered why we'd missed it before. Turns out it's just now opening. No time this last trip, but it's on the list for the next time. Check here for info.

What's on my list?

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