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Paul Cezanne:
Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair (1888-90)

" … how to compensate for my obvious shortcomings."

"At some point during our upcoming engagement, you should come to believe that you've hired the most incompetent consultant that ever lived. It's what we choose to do then that will determine the success of this effort." This was how I often summed up my contracting conversation with a prospective client. It sometimes seemed even to me that I was attempting to sabotage the effort before beginning work, for even speaking of incompetence might awaken a genuine jinx and damn the effort before it started. Furthermore, in this culture, one should never speak of incompetence in the first person or admit to even glancing knowledge about the affliction. Incompetence is believed to exclusively belong to somebody else and never, ever, anyone's self, yet there I was, freely admitting an impending personal incompetence. I suppose I was daring my client to reject me or hold me blameless. My experience had taught me that every engagement would eventually encourage, if not insist, upon manifesting some incompetence. What value would I encourage by pretending it wouldn't happen this time?

It happens.
At this very instant, performing in the conscripted role of The Muse's campaign manager, I am exhibiting perhaps the pinnacle of my personal incompetence. I'm missing deadlines and losing emails like a true professional. Furthermore, I'm struggling to retain interest. I knew when I agreed to assume the role that I would be capable of no more than assuming the role. It would never be mine if only because I had no vision, passion, or fundamental understanding of it. I relented under considerable insistence, a recipe for almost guaranteeing manifesting incompetence. One acquiesces, then one descends. One exclusively incompenceses themself to become Incompetenced. We're all familiar with this. Or, perhaps, only those capable of being completely honest with themselves ever experience this. Many might exhibit incompetence while remaining clueless about their personal experience.

I have written about feeling Incompetenced before. In my Authoring series, I submitted a story entitled
InCompetences in which I confessed to considerable personal experience with the subject. Before that, in my Reconsidering series back in '19, I submitted IncompetencePoint, a story disclosing my abiding inability to produce a Powerpoint® slide deck. I have usually regarded my incompetences as features, but even for me, they seem to be secrets I want to keep hidden. Of course, it's in the nature of Incompetences that the incompetence renders the incompetent incapable of hiding their shortcoming. Everyone surrounding them already knows and might be on their own tip-toes, not wanting to disclose what everyone already knows or suspects. A key to dealing with Incompetence might be just to spill the beans. Tell the truth, first to yourself and then to everyone else. Incompetence seems to thrive on poorly hidden secrets.

We live in an Age of Incompetence. Our immediate former President was an absolutely incompetent executive, not in any way even very much like an actual executive at all, a cartoon caricature of competence. He was nonetheless wildly popular among his base. As George Will noted in a recent Washington Post column, he spoke in the pattern of shock jocks and comedians. His speeches made fun of even the most serious business; he was among the greatest strangers to truth to ever take to a stage. He was a popular performer and an incompetent politician. He was somehow able to confuse the two distinctions so that his base judged his performance not as an executive or as a politician but as a performer, a comedian. They didn't want him to speak truth. They needed him to become that familiar buffoon they expected him to become. They judged him by what he was clearly competent in doing.

There's no hope for him. He'll keep dancing until the waters slip over him, and he disappears. Anyone better at keeping public secrets than disclosing unsettling personal truths might deserve the Shakespearian plotlines they produce. Our incompetences might keep us human, especially if they manage to encourage humble acceptance rather than arrogant denials. The Muse will have an incompetent campaign manager, no matter the incumbent holding that position. Fortunately, if history's any guidance, she won't need a competent campaign manager to gain office. Now that I've dispatched my ugly little public secret, her campaign team and I can get to figuring out how to compensate for my apparent shortcomings—better mine, I suppose, than anybody else's.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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