Facades of competence. The truth is, we’re all just winging it.

In a world of seemingly competent institutions and authority figures, it’s both alarming and deeply reassuring to discover that everyone is just winging it. Action for Happiness, highlights the detrimental effects of chronically comparing our insides with other people’s outsides. We tend to project an image of calm proficiency to the world while internally improvising and panicking. Yet, we forget that everyone else is doing the same thing. We’re all living in a constant state of improvisation, yet we believe others have it all together. The irony is that they think the same about us.

I was deeply inspired by a Guardian article, which noted that we witness ‘winging it’ time and again when those in positions of authority reveal their incompetence, take, for example, the case of Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the New York Times. Amid the controversy surrounding her firing, one thing became clear: the entire situation was poorly handled. Even the Times’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, seemed to agree, highlighting just how remarkable it was that an esteemed institution like the Times could stumble so badly. It makes you wonder: if the Times can’t handle an internal matter smoothly, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Here in the UK, a similar sense of incredulity swept the nation when Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, admitted in a disastrous radio interview that he didn’t even know who he was campaigning for in a particular region. Regardless of one’s opinion of Miliband, it’s hard not to shake your head at the leader of a major political party lacking such basic knowledge. Shouldn’t he have someone briefing him on such fundamentals? It’s a glaring reminder that even the head of a significant political force can find themselves floundering without a clue.

These examples are not isolated incidents.

Institutions, whether they are national newspapers, governments, or political parties, invest tremendous resources in denying this fundamental truth. They maintain facades of competence, essential for their authority, legitimacy, and continued survival. We rely on the illusion of ultra-competence at the highest echelons of society because it provides us with psychological security. We want to believe that there are near-infallible adults in charge, guiding us through the complexities of life.

But the reality is far different. I loved the popular Reddit thread titled “Grown-Ups of Reddit, What is the most embarrassing thing that you should be able to do, but can’t?” 

People confess to struggles with basic arithmetic, tying their shoes in the conventional way, or even driving a car. These anecdotes are a reminder that we are all stumbling through life, lacking expertise in various areas.

The veil of proficiency is lifted, and we see the reality: everyone is just winging it.

As I contemplated an ingenious conclusion for this article, one that would give the impression of confident progression from the beginning, I must admit that I failed. And that’s perfectly fine because, in the end, everyone is just winging it. So, let’s enjoy as we navigate through uncertainty, together, one improvised step at a time.


Articles cited: The Guardian ‘Everyone is titally winging it, all the time’ https://www.theguardian.com/news/oliver-burkeman-s-blog/2014/may/21/everyone-is-totally-just-winging-it


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