Avoid Procrastination by Certification

Recently, with 10 minute’s notice, I was asked to speak to a class of counseling students. Having nothing prepared, I scrambled! I knew whatever I came up with last second wasn’t going to be pretty, but I wanted to provide something of value. So, I asked myself “What did I need to hear 15 years ago?”

I wrote this list on the blackboard:

  • Counseling License
  • Ivy League Degree
  • A Doctorate / PhD
  • NCC Designation
  • ABPP Certification
  • Registered Play Therapist (RPT, SB-RPT)
  • Certified Addictions Counselor (CAC)
  • Gottman Certified
  • etc., etc., etc.

When class started, I went to the board, circled “counseling license,” and then crossed everything else out. I told the class, “Your goal is not to collect certifications or degrees, or to graduate from Harvard. Your goal is to obtain the minimum necessary qualifications you need to begin doing the work you want to do. What will set you apart from everyone else isn’t the credentials you earn, it’s what you do after you stop adding letters to the end of your name and start doing something in the field.”

Collecting Degrees & Certificates

Training is important, but sometimes we pursue it for the wrong reasons. I have 3 stories to share:

1) My state ACA chapter recently sent out a survey with the question: “If universities and colleges were to offer a post-graduate certificate in counseling focusing on military and veterans, would you be interested in this certificate program?” No! The last thing almost any counselor needs is a “post-graduate certification.” If you want to help veterans, go help Veterans! You’ll probably learn more in your first 2 weeks volunteering than 6 months in a classroom.

2) When I was in my doctoral program, I had to teach a few classes. In one class two professors were enrolled. I asked them why. They explained they were both getting another doctorate. I should have tossed them out—they already had doctorates! With very rare exception (I’m thinking an astronaut-surgeon) getting a second doctorate is a poor use of time and resources. And for counselors, perhaps the same can be said for a first doctorate.

3) Recently, I was speaking with a, skilled, licensed counselor in private practice. She said she was thinking about going back to school to get a doctorate. I said to her, “Help me understand. How will that help you, your practice, or your clients?” She said she felt uncertain of herself, especially every time one of her clients referred to her as ‘doctor.’ I told her, “You’re qualified to do the work you do. Your clients have already given you an honorary doctorate—clearly you don’t need another!”

In each of these examples, the pursuit of more training is based in feelings of inferiority and fear, not a genuine training need.

Getting Your Ducks in a Row

Steven Pressfield wrote a book about an internal struggle that we face aptly titled: The War of Art. He calls the struggle “resistance.” To Pressfield, more training and workshops can easily masquerade as work. He writes: “Have you ever been to a workshop? These boondoggles are colleges of Resistance. They ought to give out Ph.D.’s in Resistance. What better way to avoid work than going to a workshop?”

Author Seth Godin calls it “getting your ducks in a row.” I’m going to help veterans, but first I need a special credential. I’m going to help couples, but first I need to be Gottman certified. I’m going to help someone with substance abuse, but first I need an NCC and a CAC. It boggles my mind why licensed therapists pay thousands of dollars for a “life coaching” certification. It’s not because they can’t help their clients—they’re licensed by a highly regulated professional body! It’s because they’re scared. It’s because they’ve given in to resistance. It’s scary to hang a shingle, to stand up and say “Here I am, this is what I do. Do you want to schedule an appointment?” Perhaps it’s a little less scary if you can hide behind a pile of credentials.

Education V. Certification

Don’t stop learning. If you want to learn from Gottman, because he’s the best, do it.
Successful people are always learning. But that’s ancillary to their many forward actions. For example, an entrepreneur might have more audio books than songs on her phone, but she’s not pausing her business to enroll in an MBA.

A certification plays on the illusion that it’s an achievement. It’s not. I want to start a new mindset. If you see someone with more letters after his name than before his name, don’t be envious—have pity on him, because it’s a lack of confidence and an abundance of fear that’s got him there. I’m guilty, 15 years ago I thought I needed a doctorate and it wasn’t until after graduation that I realized I would have learned much more going to work every day and participating in weekly supervision.

Private Practice

What does this have to do with private practice? Everything. When a kid is climbing to the top of a diving board, he/she doesn’t need to be told to be careful. That’s instinctual. He’s terrified. He needs to be told to be brave and jump. And the amount of fear and self-doubt you face when you venture into private practice is almost unimaginable.

Private practice is about jumping off the diving board. There’s no way to get a piece of paper that says that you’re now qualified to build a business. You just do it. Nobody gave Sara Blakely permission to invent Spanx. Nobody certified Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia, to reinvent outdoor gear. Nobody told Gary Erickson he was qualified to compete with PowerBar when he invented the Clif Bar.

I gave those students the advice that no one gave me: Begin doing. Don’t ask for permission. Don’t ask for validation. Begin writing. Begin inventing. Begin contributing. The best certificate is the knowledge that you’ve done something meaningful. You’ve contributed to your field. You’ve helped someone.