Open Letter To The Mask of Competency

Dear Competency,

You are no longer my friend. You kept me safe when I was little, you even helped me in my career, you supported me at the head of household when I was a mom. But now I find you are killing me, suffocating my spirit and crushing my ability to connect with others. I have to break up with you. And, by the way, it’s YOU, not me.

your previous servant,


There are so many reasons to develop self-reliance and so many traps that result from its skillful execution. While it is a blessing, it is more subtly a curse. Manifesting as competency it can devolve into separation and isolation. How does self-reliance grow and how does this loneliness grow?

Many of us who grew up in a house of chaos; from addiction, from financial insecurity, from inadvertent abandonment through business, or chronic illness, or disaster, we who grew up without steadfast or trustworthy guidance had to develop some specialized coping skills. Some of us grew up with the internal mandate to “know it all”. This is not in the haughty one-ups-manship way but in a survival oriented way. We needed to acquire skills long before others of our age had to learn them. We had to be household managers, cooks, supply and logistics sergeants, childminders (if we had younger siblings), and possibly nurses or attendants to our ailing parents. With the immaturity of a child, we assumed the roles of the adult learning to push aside our own kid-heart in order to keep “the world safe”. Without adequate instruction or consistent guidance we did our best in creating order out of chaos (a skill that would make us invaluable workers in adulthood.) We relied on ourselves and our own problem-solving capabilities as we distrusted the adults around us to see to our needs. This was firmly imprinted in my psyche, my mind, my heart, and my worldview.

Learning new things is exhilarating and somewhat scary. I am a fast learner, partly so I can get out of those feelings of being a beginner. There is some deep strand of distrust- that I will be abandoned in mid teaching to complete the hard parts on my own, or I will have to figure out correct and incorrect with only criticism to guide me. The scars of these unconscious decisions run very deep. It has taken years to identify them and it seems that I have to re-heal the wound time and time again.

Part of the difficulty comes from the pride and self-worth I have derived from being the competent one. I was the one who could cook the dinner at eight years old, the one who did the laundry, figured out what we could buy with our meager cash to feed the family for a day. I was the one who pulled my brother’s finger out of the screen and reattached it a twelve, the one who bundled mom up when she had DTs and kept her from hurting herself in convulsions. “I”, “I”, “I”… and it evolved into the schoolroom where I became a tutor, then into the workplace where I would apply a skill that had barely been demonstrated and become a team leader. Team leader was the only position I was comfortable with; if not “I” then the whole thing could tumble down. This being the head of the pack was a source of PRIDE, but not of self-esteem. It was for self-preservation not of an internal sense of worth.

Let that soak in. Pride is not self-worth. It is the ego but not the true self that is blustering forward, so no matter how well I do, no matter my external signs of achievement the insides are still that of a vulnerable child who wants someone else to make it all right. At the same time, this child can never let go, let down its guard, or lean into the strength of another.

How do I heal this? How do I address this wound so the pain of seeming competent can ease? After all these years of appearing grown up, how can I cherish the child and let her receive the love and support she craves? What is the “appropriate” method now?

At a recent Wisdom Sharing circle, I stated that my desire, my intention for that meeting was to be the empty cup. I want to not know, to be the student, to have a place that I can trust to receive. With these eleven other beings, I wanted to try to be nothing, to be in a position to learn and to “not know”. It is important that I practice that not-knowing, incompetence, and reliance on others in a considered and open-hearted way. Rather than protecting my hard heart, I want to let it be open to the kindness of others, trusting it will come. It is the hardest thing I have done. Am doing. And I have to keep practicing. Self-reliance and the illusion of competence keep creeping back.

It is time to take off the mask and be who I am in that specific moment. Brave and strong, eager and teachable, quiet and contemplative and any other way I authentically feel. Practice not perfection is critical in this effort.


Kyczy Hawk RYT E-500 is the author of “Yoga and the Twelve Step Path”, “Life in Bite-Sized Morsels” and “From Burnout to Balance” she continues to submit articles to recovery and yoga oriented publications. Her new book:”Yogic Tools for Recovery: A Guide for Working the Twelve Steps” and it’s workbook are available now.

Kyczy has been teaching recovery focused yoga classes since 2008.  Taking the foundation of a traditional yoga training she received from the Lotus Yoga Teacher Association (of the Himalayan Yoga Institute), she has combined the wisdom and inspiration from other teachers along the way creating S.O.A.R.™ a program to help prepare yoga teachers to bring the practice to people in recovery.  

You can join Kyczy and a host of other people in recovery every Sunday morning at 8 am PT (11 am ET) and a Step Study Thursdays at 7 pm (10 pm ET) on In The Rooms  (ITR).

Kyczy is very proud of her family; husband, kids, and grandkids, all who amaze her in unique and wonderful ways. More about her work can be found at

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