A Project Manager’s Game Plan for Dealing with Incurable Cancer

Segment Twenty-Two– Certified? Certifiable? Or Just Good at What You Do?

 You are certified.  You are!  If you have a driver’s license, your state certified that you have the requisite skills to get behind the wheel.  If you earned a degree from any academic institution, they certified that you met their minimum requirements.  If you got permission to visit a military base, enter a corporate campus, or vote, in that moment, you were certified.  I have (but now am blessed to rarely use) a physically impaired hang tag for my car.  I got it when the cancer had gotten so insidious that I could walk only a handful of steps at a time.  (I’ve recovered to the point where I’m walking the dog every day, and back to being responsible for the family groceries).  But when I got the tag, it was the State of Maryland saying that I was certified (by my doctor) as being incapacitated.

Many of you have earned certifications.  I’m a Project Management Professional®, a PMI Risk Management Professional®, and was formerly an Earned Value Professional.  You can get certified in almost anything.  From Agile management practice to beer brewing, there’s a certification for that.  Pick your poison.

Carl, I know I’m good at what I do.  I don’t need a certification to affirm it.

I would contend that you do.  Whether it’s an external or internal certification, you need it.  Early in my career, I discovered the value of self-certification.  (??)  Yup.  It’s a thing.  You can self-certify.  If you know that you’re the best at something, consider proving it to others.  You can do it through external certifications, like the Project Management Professional® certification from the Project Management Institute.  Or you can self-certify by proving your worth.  (Flashback to Wayne and Garth—Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live: I’m not WORTHY!!!) You are worthy, but others will require proof.  To prove my capabilities as a risk maven, I wrote a college-level textbook on Risk Management.  When I needed to prove that I was a communications person, I wrote The Project Management Communications Tool Kit. If you’re trying to self-certify, there’s no more powerful statement than:

Oh, yes, I’m the person who wrote the book on (insert your preferred area of expertise here)!

It beats the crap out of a business card when you can point someone to your book on Amazon or offer them a copy.

Lesson Learned: Creating a copy of your book is not enough.  It needs to actually be published.  That means you either need to learn the rigors of publishing on (and distributing through) Amazon, OR self-publish through a publishing house.  I lucked into the ideal, in that my original publishing house was internal in the company I worked for, and they published it.  I am now blessed with four different publishers who have deemed my work worthy of the effort.  It’s a challenge to sell a book to a publisher, but when they take over, it makes your self-certification all the more legitimate.

The other way to self-certify is a little less onerous.  Give your intellectual property freely, but insist on credit.  I’ve given risk models to potential clients, directed them to blogs I’ve written, and even posted video briefs for them.  In each case, my name, phone number and business card information are smattered throughout.  As long as you’re sure your products are something of merit and value, then you’re self-certifying.


It’s funny that certifications are just one step away from “certifiable”.  The two definitions of certifiable in the Oxford English Dictionary are one that is capable of being certified, and officially recognized as needing treatment for a mental condition. 

I’m a certifiable cancer patient, in that I meet not one, but BOTH definitions.  Cancer makes you crazy.  But it also gives you a perspective that you didn’t have before, leading to a forced level of expertise in a field that no one wants to be an expert in.  Just learning to dance with health insurers, Medicare, the different universities conducting cancer research, and anyone else in the medical community on any given day is a major-league undertaking.  With over two years of cancer experience under my belt, I count myself capable of being certified as a cancer experience expert. 

There’s no certifying body for this condition, so self-certification is my only option to get those I might help to accept me as an expert.  But WAIT!  I’m taking my own advice.  I’ve been publicly sharing my insights on this for almost a year now.  Ta-da!  Self-certification.

As for the other perspective on certifiable, anyone who has sought a professional certification has likely driven themselves to the brink trying to re-learn what they likely already know.  A lot of risk professionals and project professionals have told me that they only came to me when they already had failed the professional certification exams.  They didn’t think they’d need to study for the exams, as they had been skilled professionals for years.  Now they were certifiable (crazy) because they weren’t certifiable (professionally). 

You alone render yourself certifiable.  You control both of those sides of the equation. 

Lesson Learned: Every certifiable (professional) moment is an amazing opportunity.  Any time someone wants you to validate (or you want to validate) your standing in a field, take it.  In the course of my life, I’ve passed the air traffic controller’s exam, been granted standing with a secure Federal agency, been blessed to help author the ANSI Standard for Project Management (PMBOK Guide, 4th Ed), and been certified to climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  There’s an eclectic little selection for you.  My lovely wife would argue that most of this is because I can’t say “no” to an opportunity.  And she’d likely be partially right.  But the other side of it is that any one moment can flourish into a whole new aspect of your life.  In the early 1990’s, distance education through the Internet was in its infancy.  Life was conducted using a 56K modem.  One of the major telecommunications companies wanted their training available on-line.  My project was to deliver for one of the biggest project management training firms in the country.  The skills it took to put that together are today’s equivalent of stone knives and bearskins.  It doesn’t matter.  For about a half-decade window, I was arguably one of a handful of experts who truly understood e-learning.    If someone offers you an opportunity for an effort so deep in its infancy that there aren’t even certifications yet, GREAT!  While today’s e-learning experts look at me like a Model T mechanic, it’s OK.  The certifications and certifiability are temporary at best.  But while you have them, you are (albeit briefly) top of the heap.

Consider one other possibility.  If there’s no certification, you can create one.  My old boss, Ed Phelps (best boss I ever had), forged an alliance with George Washington University.  In the late 1980’s, there was only one university-recognized program in project management (Western Carolina University, under John Adams).  Ed suggested to GW that they initiate a program for a Masters’ Certificate in Project Management.  It wasn’t to be a degree.  Just a certificate to acknowledge a level of study and accomplishment in the practices surrounding project management.  Ed’s efforts were first steps in a panoply of university programs across the country on a host of different topics.  He saw the gap.  He filled it.  Others recognized Ed’s creative genius and followed suit. 

There’s no reason you can’t follow in Ed’s footsteps.  If there’s no way to prove that you’re the tops in your area of expertise, create your own proof.  Your opportunity from there are virtually limitless.

Up next?  What’s that warning light for?  Being ready for life’s risks before the gates close.

If you want to review the previous elements of this e-book or blog, they’re all posted at www.carlpritchard.com/blog

If you have insights you’d like to share or comments or conversations, my e-mail is the best way to reach me at carl@carlpritchard.com.  I’ll always get back to you within 24 hours.  Always.  And if you think I missed the mark?  Check your spam folder.  Thanks for joining me on this journey.