I always loved collecting certificates. When I was in Scouts, I collected as many badges as I had sleeve space. When I was at school, I collected lines of writing for my blazer. At university, I similarly collected an array of parchment (five so far). And in karate, I didn’t want just a ‘black belt’ and completed my Yondan (fourth degree black belt rank) in two systems.
But as I was preparing for my last karate grading, one of my great instructors asked me whether I was chasing the rank or whether the rank was chasing me. The word “dan” in Japanese refers to the degree of black belt, so “shodan” is a first degree, “nidan” is second degree and so on. This of course meant that he was able to ask me: “Is the dan chasing Dan, or is Dan chasing the dan?”
Being conditioned to be ‘an achiever’ from a very young age, this was very confronting – I knew nothing other than to chase “the dan”. Yet over time, it dawned on me that having a sheet of paper without having the competence that the sheet of paper represents is meaningless, while being competent makes the sheet of paper a largely redundant formality.Â Certificates can make great wallpaper.
Collect competence, not just certificates.