What “DIPLOMA” Should Really Stand For

A few months ago, I shared how my own relationship to educational and intellectual achievements secretly damaged my self-esteem for years (you can read the article here). Although I proudly displayed success on the outside, I felt unworthy on the inside. And worse, I was ashamed of that and afraid that anyone would come to realise it. After all, how could I complain?

Seduced by the academic establishment which makes a rockstar out of you when you come out summa cum laude from prestigious educational institutes, I had come to measure myself and my worth through the diplomas and qualifications I accumulated. I was excited to reach that day when I would have enough to “feel” enough, but what I failed to understand was that the very essence of this ego-gratifying metric meant this day would never come.

When I came to realise how I structured my world around this external measure of my own worth, and I came to see that this was limiting my growth rather than fuelling it, I worked on breaking the pattern. The biggest breakthrough for me was when I dropped out of my first coaching training while being 80% through. I was already coaching professionally, but it is only at this moment that I let go of the fear whispering in my ear that a coaching diploma was required to “be a coach”.

The truth is, I was bored by the content of this particular training. I did not resonate with its approach, its narrow view of coaching and its dogmatic teaching; moreover, none of my clients ever asked me to show them my qualifications. That’s not what they were interested in. So I decided that completing this diploma was not the path. Not because I was ‘better’ than that, but because I had reframed my expectation of what a diploma is, and this course did not fulfill my newly established criteria.

Today, I make my own decisions with regards to the trainings and further educational paths I choose to engage in. I don’t choose them from a place of fear or necessity, but from a place of inspiration and curiosity. I don’t do a course because I ‘want’ or ‘need’ a certification, I do a course because I choose to live the experience it has to offer.

Below are the criteria I decided to set for myself and what I believe the letters D.I.P.L.O.M.A. should stand for in all educational institutes. Note that when I say “diploma”, I refer to any certificate, degree or qualification delivered both in formal and informal education.

D. stands for Dedication.

A diploma has to require of its participants to be dedicated to the work and its teachings, and it does so through demands, high expectations, assignments and accountabilities. It also must require of its trainers and educators to be dedicated to their students and to the highest professional standards in this particular field, making sure the latter are supported and inspired throughout their journey.

I. stands for Insight.

A worthy diploma has to provide participants and graduates with regular insights, in particular insights they could not have obtained elsewhere, whether in books or other readily available sources. Insight is the key to transformation, and any education has to be transformational to truly matter, otherwise it delivers little else than a bunch of abstract concepts. Insights have to be a common and recurring element of the educational process.

P. stands for Practice.

Insight without action is nothing more than information – which we are flooded by on a daily basis. Deliberate practice is an essential ingredient in any course, training or other educational route which claims to deliver a certification. Students who don’t internalise their learnings and put their insights into deliberate practice as part of their education end up with an empty piece of paper and no embodied skill to utilise their learnings.

L. stands for Learning.

Obviously, learning is the cornerstone of any diploma or education, but it too often comes to a halt either during the educational process, or at the very end of it. The diploma should not represent the end of the learning journey. On the contrary, it should symbolise an open door to a vast field of constant and never-ending improvement through exploration and discovery. Ongoing learning should be emphasised and educators should lead by example. They often don’t.

O. stands for Open-mindedness.

In many ways and forms, diplomas stigmatise and divide. Students of a particular course are immediately labelled, whether because of the topic or because of the educational institute they belong to. This does not apply solely to the academic world: I have found as much division and stigma in my trainings as a changework professional as I have in my academic years. A true and noble diploma should promote open-mindedness at all levels, emphasising the diversity of valid approaches and schools of thought belonging to any one field.

M. stands for Mastery.

I see the element of mastery as two-fold. Firstly, many certifications I have obtained led me to be over-qualified, yet master of none. Of course, mastery comes with experience and time and cannot be created in 12 months, yet worthy diplomas should ensure their students graduate on the first step of the mastery ladder. Diplomas are too often granted to uncommitted novices instead of aspiring masters.

Secondly, the teachers and educators should be masters themselves. I remember learning English at school with teachers who were (very) clearly not masters of the English language. I faced a similar situation when engaging with personal development and coaching: there is little worse than learning from someone who does not walk the talk.

A. stands for Alignment.

Finally, a diploma which is not aligned with who you are and your internal world will add very little value to your life. It may serve you briefly and you may enjoy a short-lived benefit from it, but what is the point of this investment of time, money and energy if it is not aligned with your inner voice? What a waste, if by engaging in this path you are pursuing someone else’s life instead of your own?

The essence of my work is to help people live from the inside-out and unfold their own myth. A diploma may be a valuable tool, but what you wish to create in the world has to be the path.