What's in a piece of paper, anyway?

 

Sunday, September 13, 2009

 

For me, nothing evokes the feeling of utter satisfaction and joy as when I have the opportunity to share a gem of an idea, an insight, or a nugget of truth, and the person’s eyes light up, and the light bulb goes on for them. And now, they have a new understanding, a deeper meaning, an epiphany!

This is what I believe I was born to do… to encourage, educate and inspire others to be more. And this is what I’ve been wanting / trying to figure out how to do for decades on a bigger scale. I believe that somehow, someday, in some way, I will figure out how to take what brings me ultimate joy and turn it into my livelihood, so that I could be living my passion everyday instead of just once in awhile. But yet, no matter how I’ve tried to move this thing along, it never really took off. I felt something was blocking me.

So, I finally put in some really “focus” time. I mean, I wasn’t going to just let more time go by and hope that by magic the answer would come to me. I decided to be deliberate in my pursuit. I started asking myself questions that I expected answers to. And then, a thought came with excitement that felt inspired: Set up a time to talk with this particular friend of mine. He’d been extremely helpful in coaching me in the past regarding career issues, so it made sense that this was the direction for me to go. And I told him that my expectation for our call would be, that through his guidance, we would uncover whatever was standing in the way from me moving forward in making my passion my reality.

The day came. Butterflies were in my stomach. I was excited and anxious – the good kind of anxious… like it’s Christmas and you’re about to open your gifts, expecting fabulous stuff to be in those wrapped packages. The conversation began, and he was on target as usual, presenting really useful ideas. But, after 2 hours, my inner dialogue that began with, “I know we will identify the blockages” sullenly moved to, a more consoling dialogue of “well, this was a good start, and it’s okay if I don’t get it all unearthed now because I know it’s coming, it just may not be in this call.” I was feeling a little disappointed that our conversation wasn’t moving me in the way I thought it would.

But I continued to stay open minded to his coaching. Then a real shift came. He suggested that I change my languaging of what I do from “counseling” to “a life coach”. Reason being, a “counselor” has a degree with clinical expertise, and he commented (although painful to hear) that I did not have that level of expertise. And as much as it pained me to agree with him, I had always had that same thought in the back of my head that there were areas I was not qualified to counsel. He encouraged me that I didn’t need to be credentialized or degreed because a life coach doesn’t require any type of formal training. I knew he was right about a “life coach” not requiring a university degree, but this notion ruffled my feathers something fierce. Because for some reason, I had it in my head that no one would listen to me, if I didn’t have the right credentials.

I then launched into my discontent on the subject… I knew I was intelligent, after all, I graduated #2 out of over 600 students in my high school. And people have always commented on how smart I am. But, it killed me that I didn’t have a degree because I’ve met so many people that are so enamored by people’s degrees and credentials that I’ve felt inadequate saying I could help anyone, if I didn’t have the certification to prove it. And the irony is that I’ve purposefully taken the life path that did NOT include the degrees. Logically, I always believed that the proof was in the pudding, not in the piece of paper. But emotionally, I believed otherwise.

After high school, I studied Fashion Design, not to make it a career, but because I’d been playing around with making my own clothes since I was 13, and had a strong desire to really know that skill set. And my high school guidance counselor warned me NOT to attend that particular school because the requirements were only that of having a “C” average in high school. And being the “A” student I was, he felt it was beneath me. But, “I’ll show him”, I thought to myself… “he doesn’t know what’s important for me”. And knowing I would only receive a diploma versus a degree was my guidance counselor’s issue, but little was I willing to admit to myself, it was really an issue for me too. So, I cleverly rationalized the diploma versus degree issue by thinking that since I was going to this school to learn the creative skills, and not to make a career out of it, it was no big deal. And I suppressed my desire for the degree, and went ahead with my plans to attend.

I loved my schooling, and it was plenty challenging. I was using my left brain (the creative side) and that did not come nearly as easy as the academic stuff. I had to really work at it, to maintain my “A” student status. Then, in my last year, the school changed gears; it became accredited. And now they offered a degree program, and I could graduate with more than “just a diploma”, I could have the degree I wanted. Now, this created a HUGE dilemma for me. I thought I had rationalized all this degree stuff away before I embarked on this design program. And now, it’s been thrown in my face again. Of course, I wanted the degree; I couldn’t deny that. But, in order to get it, I’d have to squeeze in Business English, Business Math & Business Psychology by graduation day which was only a year away. I’d have to come up with a lot more money to pay for these classes and worse, I’d have to find the time to do the course work. And at this point, it was all I could do to get my fashion design work done using all my spare time and weekends to do it. I didn’t see that I could get the degree without sacrificing my design studies. So, with much reluctance, I aborted the notion of getting that degree, and settled once again for the idea that a diploma was good enough.

After I had graduated from the Fashion Design program, I decided to go to Bible college. Again, for my own personal edification; it was not meant to be a career path. But, upon graduation from Bible college, I would most assuredly have a degree. Yeah!!! So, off to Bible college I went. Then, as life would have it, the ideologies I was immersed in turned sour for me. Circumstances lined up in such a way, that in good conscious, I couldn’t continue staying aligned to the college where their beliefs and my beliefs so vehemently disagreed. So, a semester before graduating, I left. And, I have no regrets about that decision, except one. Once again, I lost the opportunity to have that silly piece of paper that credentialized me.

And so, life marched forward. I did my best to console myself that degrees do not make the person, but I was just fooling myself because that’s exactly what I thought. Overtime, I studied all sorts of holistic practices, getting many certifications, but none from an academic university where I would have a degree. I even framed all of my certifications from the various methodologies I was now certified in; and it truly covered an entire wall… there were lots of them. And I had hoped that by displaying them in my home office, I would eventually recognize my accomplishments and feel I no longer needed the degree from a university. But, it didn’t happen.

So, okay, I finally gave in… if the piece of paper was going to make me feel that the public would pay attention to me, fine, that’s what I’ll get. And I would get credentialized in a way that the general public would recognize me as valid. So, I decided I needed to get a doctorate. Now, to keep in line with my personal integrity, if I was going to spend the time getting this degree, I wanted it to be in the field that would support my passion. So, I got my Bachelor’s degree in Metaphysical Science with ease. And with that degree, I was also awarded the title of “Reverend”. Well, that seemed pretty cool, and a bonus, I wasn’t even aware of it until it came to me. Then, I began on my Master’s degree. And the course work was easy enough. Then, I had to write a thesis. And I almost had it complete, when I realized the very subject I was trying to write about which was supposed to present my findings on a subject from my own personal experience, had a problem. In the process of writing this paper, I had stirred up more questions in me about the subject, leaving me to actually disbelieve what I had written in those 30+ pages. It was now bringing the reader to the conclusion that my findings had in fact, NOT expanded this subject (as it was meant to do) and actually left the reader unsatisfied. Which caused me to recognize that more life experience was necessary to truly place myself in the position to feel that I had something noteworthy to add to the subject.

So, that Master’s degree has been on hold for 4 years now, as I’ve been living life, and gathering many life experiences that is setting me up to re-write the thesis with something valuable to say, although that hasn’t started yet. Fortunately, the university has no time limit on finishing my doctorate program, and they assured me that they had heard similar stories to mine about the delay.

So, as I shared my historical experiences with my friend about my strong feelings with having credentials, both he and I could feel my extreme, negative intensity. I realized I wasn’t just telling him a story to tell him a story… I was sharing from the depths of my being. Almost like screaming from my core, I KNOW I’m smart, but damn it, how will the world ever know it, if I don’t have that damn piece of paper.

And with that, I realized we had uncovered the very issue I’d wanted him to help with. And there it was… it was uncovered… but what now?

We pondered together for a few moments, him trying to convince me of the unimportance of the degree for me to be a life coach, but I wasn’t buying into that idea. And yet somehow, I went straight from telling him my “poor me” story, to feeling this bold, determination rise up with in me and I began to recognize how this whole scenario was sooooo ridiculous! And with great conviction, I began to tell him:

“I have been purposeful about my life. I chose the schooling that suited me because it’s what felt good. I wasn’t interested in the 4 year degree path and had a plethora of reasons for NOT wanting to go that direction. And I didn’t feel I should be punished because I wasn’t like the typical college student… I didn’t fit that mold. I wasn’t like most others. And that is my truth. I’m not like most others. And I don’t fit into any mold. I’m unique. And why can’t my uniqueness be enough for me? And why can’t my uniqueness be my validation.

After all, I’ve made really good choices in my life. And I know many people that have commented over the years, that they want what I have. They want to be more like me. So, whoever I am… must be something of value. Which causes me to wonder, what do I do so differently, that others desired what I had? And the answer was right there on the tip of my tongue… it’s because I’ve made good use of my life experiences.

I didn’t just let life happen to me. I made decisions from a place of deliberate thought. I paid attention to the results of my decisions, and determined whether it was a decision that I would repeat or one that I would not. I realized I did not live my life based on what others told me to. As a matter of fact, I resisted other people’s advise if it didn’t feel right to me. And that is what makes what I have to say special. I’ve been learning over my lifetime to follow the voice from within, and not do what others expected of me, if it didn’t feel right.

I may have been an “A” student in course work, but that’s NOT what makes me smart. The fact that I am LIFE SMART is what makes me unique. Being LIFE SMART is what has made me be the ME that I.”

And as these words rolled out of me, I was ecstatic. I knew THIS was the revelation I had been missing. The uniqueness of me is that I am Life Smart, meaning I’ve been smart in terms of living life. And in that instance as I spoke that truth, the need for the degree was gone, completely gone! I realized there is no certification that could compare to a Life that has been lived on purpose. The evidence of my life’s experience is my life itself. My life is the evidence; and it’s not in a piece of paper. It is a life where I KNOW inner satisfaction. I KNOW I am a woman that makes a difference. I KNOW I could die today with a sense of “job well done.” I KNOW that I love myself, and that my love for myself is not contingent upon having everything in my life be perfect. I KNOW I am worthy of my love. I AM an awesome woman.

After arriving at such a magnanimous conclusion, I now know that my life will never be the same again, because that old belief that I had to have that silly piece of paper is done. I’ve shifted my belief to knowing that I am Life Smart. And being Life Smart trumps any ‘ol piece of paper any day.

And with that, I’ve had another life experience. And today, I can boldly say with confidence, “a degree cannot substitute for life experience. Life experience trumps ALL.”

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