Recognized and Approved...

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Why didn't they go through the proper channels? Perhaps they didn't have the money to attend medical school, but still had a passion for medicine. So they taught themselves, holding to the highest standards possible. However, despite their demonstrated competence, they lost their credibility when it is revealed that they don't have a real certificate.

Does the diploma make the doctor, or is it the skill set and passion for helping people through medicine?

A Society of Stamps and Signatures

Our society places a heavy premium on stamped and signed pieces of paper. This makes sense, because certification lets people know that you have a baseline of knowledge which qualifies you to do something. In a global society like ours, we need some way to verify the abilities people claim to have. Too often, however these certificates and diplomas only represent that an individual had the cash to pay a school and the time to sit through a class. They do not necessarily represent a real commitment to mastering the skill under scrutiny. Only real-life experience can give that.

Most individuals can recognize the difference between someone who looks good on paper and someone who has that real world experience. That is why so many employers prefer to hire people with 'experience.' But even in those cases, they will hold out for people with a diploma, even if a candidate without a diploma is more qualified for the job.

There are many, many ways to acquire knowledge, and most of them do not involve the standard academic model. And yet, this model is often the only one that is valued as valid. You may have decades of experience teaching at volunteer centers, but without that teaching degree, you will not get any recognition for it (except from private schools, which tend to be more open-minded).

I hold a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Certification, but not the Olympic Weightlifting Certification or the Gymnastics Certification. Despite this, I am able to contribute to coaching in these two areas because I have acquired a lot of knowledge on both subjects by training myself. I don't have the proper papers, but I can help people learn the correct movements, and since I've demonstrated that I can improve their abilities, they don't hold my lack of certification against me.

The Usefulness of Being Certified

For most people, certifications are the jumping off point. They take a class so that they can start to practice the real world stuff. The certification provides a foundation from which to develop applicable skill. This is the right way to view them.

For others, certifications seem to grant authority. How many times have I heard, "I have a degree in _____" as a justification for why I should listen to someone prattle on about something they clearly know nothing about. My favorite was the nutrition science degree-holder who was just repeating all the same old government health dogma. I've been living nutritional science for three years, but I don't have a degree in it. Does that mean I'm not qualified to state my opinion or advise others?

Instead of citing credentials to justify assertions, one should instead endeavor to put together a strong argument or demonstrate competence through instruction or performance.

Teachers for certification courses do not become teachers by taking the class many times and with excellent grades. They may start with the certificate, but they then go out and master their craft. Many of them become experts first, then either join the program or develop their own form of certification to teach others. People who are really invested in learning something will learn it anyway, regardless of the paperwork behind their name or the availability of classes. Very often, they acquire a lot of certificates along the way, simply because they enjoy learning about their chosen topic. When these people learn a skill, they learn it well, and can convey it to others.

Instead of waiting for the right class at the right time, and paying money, and then waiting for it to start and learning at someone else's pace, I prefer to just start doing things and learning as I go and seeking out teachers when I need them. That frequently involves taking a class and becoming certified, but the certificate is simply part of the process, not the entire process itself.

Of course, most experts do have certifications, because they leave no stone unturned in their quest for mastery. In this way, certifications can help us discern when someone has a strong dedication to mastering a field. And many of the more difficult certification processes denote what is effectively mastery. Earning a Ph,D indicates a level of expertise few people ever attain, though even it is just the beginning of a new field of exploration.

Certifications are a good starting point, but they should not be taken as indications of expertise. Instead, you should judge a person's competence by your own observation. If they help you make progress and reach your goals, then listen to them and take their advice. If, instead, they are simply reading off the slogans and mantras they memorized at a seminar, look elsewhere. It's usually not that hard to tell if someone is really competent or just leaning on a title.

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Fight On, Brave Warriors!

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