Self-Help Sunday: “General Competence” is a Thing and You Should Have That Thing

We often associate competence with a specific skill, i.e., “he is a competent swimmer.” However, it should be noted that there is such a thing as “general competence,” and that “generally competent” is a thing which you want to be.

I recently published a self-help piece about controlling the things you are able to control, and who you are as a man is something you have a lot of control over.

Just as you have people who screw-up everything they’re involved in, from their work, to their hobbies, to the way they dress themselves, you have people who tend to do things correctly. A person who tends to do things correctly is going to be valued as a friend, an employee or a neighbor, in the same way that someone who tends to screw things up tends to be avoided.

Men really respect men who are good at doing things, and the more respected you are by other men, the better your life is going to be. If you become known as “the guy who is good at everything,” you will be a de facto authority figure in your circles, and this will give you access to many social opportunities.

Here is a list of simple things you can do to improve your general competence.

Always learn anything you have the opportunity to learn.

If there is ever a situation where someone invites you to do something that they are good at, go with them. You can also offer to help someone with something in exchange for teaching you how to do it. People who are good at things generally like teaching others how to do that thing, as it boosts their self-confidence and (white, male) people as a rule generally like helping others.

For example: If you text a friend and ask him to hang out and he says that he cannot hang out because he is repairing the drywall in his spare room, then ask him if you can join him in repairing the drywall. Put real effort into the experience, and learn how to do the thing that he knows how to do. This can be applied to cleaning guns, changing oil in a car, driving a boat, installing a new hard drive in a computer, learning a hobby, or anything else. Never pass up a hands-on opportunity to learn something you don’t know.

Always do simple tasks properly, no matter how insignificant they may seem.

A competent person engages life as if the things he does matter, and has the philosophy that if something is worth doing it is worth doing correctly. This does not mean that you should be obsessive or waste time on trying make perfect something that is already good, but it means that you allocate time and energy to do the best job you can with that time and energy. You may be shocked at how much respect you gain or lose from those around you based on your ability to properly perform very simple tasks.

For example: If you’re swinging by the liquor store after work and a friend asks you to pick up a bottle of decent dry red wine and you bring them a bottle of cheap sweet red wine, you’ve failed to competently perform a simple task. If you didn’t know the price ranges of wine, and bought a $7 bottle when your friend was expecting a $12 bottle, you could have examined the pricing of all the bottles and come to a conclusion about how much “decent” wine costs. If you didn’t know which wines are sweet and which ones are dry, you could have asked the staff or you could have Googled it. If you bring the wrong bottle, your friend, consciously or not, is going to mark it down in his mind that you are unreliable. If you bring the right bottle, the opposite will happen in his mind.

Properly allocate time and energy.

Try never to waste time or energy, as both of these things are of vital value. Overdoing something beyond the accepted standard can look incompetent, as you are not competently allocating your time, and your time is likely tied into other people’s time. Competent people are able to analyze the acceptable standard of performance, and not go too far beyond it. (Although please do note that overdoing something is always going to be better than underdoing it, so if you don’t know, err on the side of performing a task too well, rather than risk being sloppy.)

For example: In the above wine example, do not spend 2 hours trying to pick the perfect bottle, and then show up late and tell your friend, “sorry, I just really wanted to pick the correct bottle.” You will look bizarre. If someone hires you to paint their barn, but says that they don’t need it to look perfect, they just want to clean it up a little, do not spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to make it look perfect. If there is a thin spot here and there, let it be. If you overdo it, you could end up wasting the time of the man who hired you, as well as your own time.

Know what you cannot do.

A primary characteristic of screw-ups is that they try to do things that they cannot do, when they should know better than to try. A competent person understands that there are things that he will not be able to do, and when he faces these things, he admits to himself and to others that he is not capable of doing the thing. The best way to understand if you can or cannot do a thing is to be very familiar with yourself, your own strengths and weaknesses. Understand this: admitting that you don’t know something is almost always going to be looked on with favor by your peers, even if it is something that you feel you should know. Bullshitting only works when you don’t have to prove yourself (and it primarily only works on women, who tend to judge what a man says almost exclusively on how he says it). “To be honest with you, I don’t know,” is always a valid response, particularly when it is known that you are good at a number of other things.

For example: If a friend knows that you can change oil on a car, and asks you if you can help him change the carburetor, but you don’t know how to change a carburetor, simply tell him you do not know how. This is much better than saying, “meh, I can probably handle it,” and trying to do the thing and then looking like an asshole when you screw it up. Ideally in this situation, you would have a second friend that you know who you can call to show both you and your first friend how to accomplish the task.

Build a network of competent people.

An extreme mark of general competence is that when something needs doing, the competent person is able to call on someone who is more experienced than himself. Always make mental notes of things that people you come into contact with are good at or knowledgeable about. People like to be called on for their expertise, as it is good for self-confidence.

For example: In the above example of the wine bottle request, if you didn’t know what to get you could call a friend who knows a lot about wine. He’d be delighted to tell you, and be flattered that you respect his expertise so much that you would call him for advice. He will also note that you are competent, because calling him in this situation was a competent decision. If the boss asks you to paint the moulding in the showroom, but you’ve never been able to get the lines straight, ask that your co-worker who you’ve noted as an expert taper be allowed to join you in the task. Even if your boss realizes that you were playing helper to your co-worker who is an expert taper, he will note that you were competent in choosing someone who knew how to do the job well.

Don’t go around acting like you know everything.

People are generally unimpressed by boastful people, as it tends to denote low character. Constantly asserting yourself as an authority looks bad, even if you are an authority. The most obvious example of this is someone who feels the need to tell you how smart they are. No one thinks that a person who says, “I’m really smart,” is actually really smart. Men judge other men based on how they perform, and men that perform well while not playing themselves up are always going to come across as more competent than people who feel the need to tell people how good they are at something. Boasting makes a person look insecure.

For example: If the hardwood floor in the hallway needs to be stripped and refinished, and the boss asks if anyone knows how to do it, and you are an expert in it, do not say: “I’m a super expert, I was hired by the Duchess of Brabant to refinish the 300-year-old oak floors of the banquet room at the Royal Palace of Laeken and given a medal of valor for the job I performed!” Even if that were 100% true, you would instead want to say something along the lines of: “sure, I think I can handle that.” Do a very good job, and the boss will note that you downplay your own abilities, which is a sign of good character, positive personal self-confidence and general competence, and he will look to you in the future when he needs something important done.


I’ve tried to use examples that are as simple and general as possible, so that they can be applied to the largest number of situations that you will come into contact with. Given the place we are in history, I considered making all of the examples about things which relate to being in a post-apocalyptic rape gang involved in a race war, but I think these general examples should be easily enough applied to those kinds of situations, should they arise. They should also be easily applied to a situation of living in a small rural town and resisting a federal government that is coming down on you. They should be easily applied to any situation where you have to cooperate with other men in a serious or casual way in order to accomplish any given task.

Look at these examples and think of ways that you can apply them in your own life, and you will notice yourself gaining status among your circles of friends and co-workers, as well as feeling more confident about yourself.

This is an abridged version of a chapter in the never-to-be book “Don’t Do Anything I Wouldn’t Do” by Andrew Anglin. Further self-help information can be found here