Personal Growth through Certifications

In my previous posts, I covered the two primary benefits of certification pursuit and attainment:  having a structured learning path, and new opportunities.  Today, I’ll cover the more abstract benefits around personal growth.

Goal setting and focus

Working toward a certification requires the simple act of goal setting.  And working toward any significant goal brings a whole set of benefits.  When engaged in the pursuit of a goal, we exercise our ability to focus.  We set our eyes on the desired result and we engage our mind and actions on achieving that result.  That ability to focus, when exercised regularly, can have far reaching impacts on other areas of our lives.  This one skill can lead to better time management, setting priorities, and most importantly discipline. 

Discipline is required to achieve anything greatWhen we establish disciplined habits on a daily basis, we experience the amazing compounding effect of consistent action.  This compounding effect can easily be seen in when applied to exercise and weight training, where each day’s workout builds on the gains achieved the day before.  Consistency is key, and consistency can only be achieved through disciplined effort.  James Clear’s book, “Atomic Habits”, provides an enlightening view on the power of consistent action. 

When applied to certification goals, we accept that consistent habits of study and practice are required.  The disciplined action of getting up early, for example, and studying daily establishes a routine that builds upon itself day after day.  Each day, we build upon the progress made the day before. One month of consistent studying or action puts us much further ahead than if we attacked it in an unorganized, random fashion.  Regular goal setting, discipline, and consistency, help to hone the skills of mental focus, time management, and priority setting.  The more we exercise these skills, the more natural they’ll become, and the more we’ll be able to accomplish. 

For me, the process of working toward any goal is incredibly satisfying.  I also happen to have a passion for learning, so when I tie the process of learning to a goal, such as achieving a certification, this becomes an incredibly enjoyable pursuit, which fuels the motivation to stay on track and stay disciplined.  The challenge then becomes time management.  But again, with disciplined habits, I can structure my day to ensure I have time to put in that consistent effort.  For example, I’m currently conditioning myself to get to sleep early at night, so I can get up early to study since I know the morning hours are the most effective time for me to accomplish my personal goals.

The act of the pursuit of a goal can be rewarding by itself, but the attainment of a goal brings another powerful benefit beyond increased skill or competence, and that is confidence.

Confidence

Achieving any goal can provide a healthy boost to one’s overall sense of confidence. The self-satisfaction and validation of one’s ability to accomplish a great task can be incredibly uplifting. When applied to the attainment of a certification, the attainment of new knowledge can lead to confidence in one’s grasp of the material. As stated in previous posts, gaining a certification does not equate to experience or similarly any level of mastery.  That can only be gained by years in the field or trenches.  But once a concept is learned, a new level of competence is gained.  What was once a mystery is now something understood, and grasping and understanding the new concept can translate into this renewed confidence.

I had a very eye-opening experience years ago when pursuing my CCNA certification.  Somehow, I made it through many years in IT without knowing the core networking concept of subnetting.  The logic was mysterious simply because I had not taken the time to understand it.  And having access to CIDR tables on the Internet didn’t help since this perpetuated my lack of need to learn it.  But subnetting is a core concept of the CCNA level material.  If you don’t grasp and internalize it, you won’t pass the exam.  Once I understood it, I was amazed how much that alone deepened my understanding of routing and switching.  It’s not surprising then how much of a confidence boost I felt in my approach to infrastructure engineering.

A few years ago, I attended a VCDX workshop led by Paul Mancuso.  He made one comment that stuck with me.  The gist of his comment was this:  Becoming a VCDX does not mean you will automatically make a lot more money, but you will treat your career differently.  What that comment meant to me was that this certification introduces a new level of confidence in one’s mastery over a particularly high-level skill set, and that this level of confidence could translate into one’s posture and the pursuit of higher level and more rewarding roles.  I honestly believe the attainment of any hard to achieve certification brings a confidence boost that can positively influence how we approach our current work and the type of future roles we pursue.  So many of us have dealt with imposter syndrome.  Sometimes the completion of a daunting certification might help provide some validation that we are not an imposter after all.

Enjoyment

The final thought on this has to do with simple enjoyment.  About 15 years ago, I thought about leaving the field of tech and pursing a completely different line of work.  I felt like I was “burnt out”.  I had been doing systems administration for several years, and I was looking for something more fulfilling.  Around this time, I got married and started feeling the pressure of supporting my family.  Instead of pursuing an entirely new career where income might be tight for a while, I made the decision to invest myself in my current career so that I could continue to pay the bills.  What happened was amazing.  By investing more of my time and focus in learning, I started receiving returns on my investment in the form of job satisfaction.  I started loving my work the more I learned.  It was within a year after that when I discovered virtualization, and that opened a whole new passion of mine for technology. 

Simply investing oneself and making the decision to own one’s career can truly open the door to a greater enjoyment and fulfillment that will fuel one’s career.  Certification pursuit and self-initiated learning is a powerful avenue for investing oneself and taking that ownership.

Conclusion

Over the last few posts, I’ve argued how certifications can be incredibly beneficial and highly rewarding for those with a craving for learning and growth in their careers.  They provide a structured path for learning a new technology or product, opened doors to new opportunities within one’s current role or a new role altogether, and personal growth and skills that can have a wide range of impact in one’s career.

The clear component that certification study misses of course is real-world production-level experience.  Working in a lab is not like working in a production environment.  Driving on a closed-course track is not like driving on the open road.  But how do we gain experience if it’s not part of our current role?  One answer is through project-based learning.  I’ll look forward to discussing that in an upcoming post.  Thanks for reading!

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