You’ve Probably Got (More Than) Enough Qualifications

August 21, 2020

There comes a time when you know enough about something.

Nothing against lifelong learning and a growth mindset, but there comes a point when you’ve done enough courses and certificates, and accumulated enough qualifications.

In this case, I speak specifically to fitness and health professionals who obsessively chase weekend courses, and who aggressively hoard the certificates that result.

I’ve noticed this specifically in this field, but it’s certainly not insulated to fitness and health professionals.

Let me qualify a point here. You should never stop learning. You should however reach a point where you slow your pursuit of a narrow and focussed education in spite of something else.

‘In spite of something else’ is the key phrase.

And this is because the endless courses and qualifications come at an opportunity cost. As the rate of your increase in knowledge begins to plateau, the time you spend trying to achieve these tiny marginal gains is time that is stolen from something else. It’s less about what you can learn on an already-well-versed topic, and more about what you can’t learn on some other topic in that time. The same opportunity cost can apply to physical training, which I explore in ‘Is it Possible to be too Strong?‘.

I have a firm belief that you can learn 80% of the content on almost any given topic in 20 hours. In the first third of this time, you’ve probably learned 50% of everything. In the second third, you’ve maybe added another 20%. And in the last third you’ve only added another 10% of the total knowledge. Extend this curve further, and the final 1% will take longer than a lifetime.

And the opportunity cost of this 1% gain in knowledge is huge. You can learn 80% of a whole different topic in 20 hours, as opposed to a lifetime to just gain 1% in something you’re already well versed in.

Malcolm Gladwell popularised the idea of the 10,000 hour rule in ‘Outliers’ – the concept that this is the time you must spend on something to reach ‘mastery’ status. Gladwell’s rule has been somewhat lost in translation however. Although this commitment may be required for ‘mastery’, much less is needed for ‘competency’ (even a high level of competency).

In his book, ‘The First 20 Hours’, Josh Kaufman argues that just 20 hours of ‘deliberate, focussed practice’ can leave to a relatively high level of focussed effort. I explore this concept for fitness professionals here.

Now sure, you’d rather your brain surgeon has 10,000 surgeries under her belt than just 20, but this applies to narrow specialists – those ‘I’ shaped people with an enormous depth of knowledge but minimal breadth.

Contrast this with a ‘dash shaped’ person, with a huge breadth, but shallow depth, of knowledge. An all-rounder. A ‘Jack-of-all-trades’.

But what if we were to combine the ’I’ and the ‘dash’ shaped people? This begins to look like the lovechild of David Epstein’s research into the virtues of ‘generalism’ (as discussed in his book, ‘Range’), and Angela Duckworth’s exploration of the importance of persevering on a single topic or skill (as she discusses in ‘Grit’).

Suddenly, we’re not ‘I’ or ‘dash’ shaped, but ’T’ shaped. People with a wide breadth of knowledge which they can draw on to solve a problem in their (seemingly unrelated) area of speciality (depth).

If we come back to the ‘certificate hoarding’ fitness and health professionals, what can we do to build this ’T shape’?

The first step is admitting that ‘I probably know enough about fitness for now’. Sure, you’ll keep reading and learning, but not at the expense of something else.

You aren’t struggling to attract new clients because your resume is incomplete. You don’t struggle to hold on to new clients because they’re pushed away by your lack of fitness knowledge. You struggle because all the time you spent learning how to hold boxing pads, master yoga poses or teach Olympic weightlifting, was time that was being stolen from learning about economics, marketing, psychology, or one of a thousand other things.

You’ve done enough fitness courses! Shift your focus. Expand your education. Build breadth. Become T-shaped.

And there comes a time too when you just need to take action! Lack of deliberate action (and frankly, hard work) is almost certainly a bigger enemy to your success than lack of certificates will ever be. While doing a course may feel like motion, actually applying what you’ve learned is action.

Broaden your knowledge, and take definitive action.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.

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