Apprenticeship Patterns – Retreat into Competence

The Retreat into Competence pattern describes what you should do when you feel overwhelmed with how little you know. Every apprentice will eventually feel ignorant or incompetent compared to the craftsmen they will meet. This should not be a reason to worry as it is a normal and inevitable phenomenon. However, when it happens you should retreat briefly into your competence. What this means is to work on something that you already know very well in order to regain some confidence and realize how much you’ve learned since you began your journey. This pattern is relevant for people who are struggling or stretched beyond their ability. If you find yourself in this position, you may need to take a step back before you can continue going forward. However, it is important to realize that this pattern is only a short-term fix so that you don’t surrender to the comfort of working only on things that you know very well.

I enjoyed reading this pattern and found it to be useful because it is applicable to everybody at one point or another. Reading this pattern reminded me of impostor syndrome, which is when somebody persistently feels like a fraud despite evidence of their competence. I think this is something that a lot of computer science students feel since there is so much information to learn and the technology and tools we use are always changing. I think that this pattern is great advice for someone who has a case of impostor syndrome or simply feels overwhelmed by their work. Taking a step back and working on something that you’re comfortable with will allow you to clear your head and regain your composure. It is important to remind yourself from time to time how much you actually know and realize that many things you do easily now once seemed impossibly complicated. Retreating into your competence will help you spring forward when you go back to new challenges. I’m glad that I read this pattern as this advice will definitely help whenever I feel lost or overwhelmed in the future. I now know that in situations like that it will help to retreat into competence for a little while.


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