# 82: Dear Women, Do Not Train Yourselves Out of the Game!

Mohr, Tara (2014). Playing Big: A Practical Guide for Brilliant Women Like You, 146.

Story behind the Passage

On some days, it is really hard for me to decide on the topic I want to write about. On other days, it is very easy. Today is one of the easy days because a dear friend of mine asked me via WhatsApp which further qualification program I would recommend her to complete in 2021. My answer?

NONE!

O.k., this needs some explaining, right? This is exactly why I have chosen Tara Mohr’s book again. I know, I am kind of breaking my rules of the 365-day blogging challenge because I already blogged about the book about three weeks ago (BOOK OF THE WEEK “Playing Big”). Still, I just have to talk about it again because I immediately thought of the passage above when my friend asked me today.

Mohr is not the only author who addresses this issue of ‘overtraining’ or ‘training yourself out of the game,’ as I would call it. You find plenty of books and articles abou this phenomenon. Whatever you want to call it: it is quite common. And it is not only common among women, of course. But I do encounter it with women more often. Since I know the pattern from myself as well, I do understand the “I have to get more training on this” reflex. Yet, it is harmful if you do not really pay attention why the hell you actually want this or that training.

Certainly, I am not against training in general. For sure, I have completed some further education programs in addition to my university studies. Still, I would say that I never got addicted to this certificate collection self-sabotage as much as I am seeing it in other women now. For sure: The times have changed and, after all, I am the one blogging about this all the time. Yes, we have arrived in the age of lifelong learning and non-linear career paths as the soon-to-be norm. That also makes it a necessity for people to always keep on learning new things by completing further education programs. But as with anything: the balance counts.

There needs to be some balance between passion (I love learning; I want to grow…) and the pragmatic (If I get this certificate, I am eligible for…) aspect. In the case of women, especially the highly-educated and reflected ones, there is often a third aspect involved: self-confidence. Women very often think that they have to get training abc because otherwise, they have no chance of making it. They think, they win the “expert” label by paying for an immensely expensive part-time study program which they do in the evening with a tired baby screaming in their lap just because they think, they need this first.

No!

My Learnings

“’This before that’ are the false beliefs we hold about the order in which things need to happen…” Mohr calls this a “hiding strategy.” I would actually call it a deferral strategy. You can call it whatever you want to call it. The label is not important, but the consequence is. You end up NOT ACTING, NOT PERFORMING, NOT PROCEEDING IN YOUR CAREER. Again, I am not saying all this because I am some smart ass. I am saying this because I was caught in this mode of thinking for a long time and I still experience backlashes once in a while. In my case, this is very much related to my personality and the fact that I get bored very quickly as soon as I have figured out how something works in depth. However, I have also learned some things. So, here is my personal checklist on when additional training makes sense.

  1. You know exactly which certificate would raise your salary/status: Think of yourself as a brand. Your brand value might increase if you have some additional training. But the point is: These kinds of certificates that add value to your personal brand are quite limited (e.g., MBAs from the five top business schools in Europe). Still, if you are pretty sure that training x gives you financial or “power” benefit y (e.g., a promotion, more affluent clients), then you can consider it.

-> Please note: In this case, a question like “which training should I complete” never comes up. It is very clear what you have to do. If you are a physicist working at an industrial corporate and you see that all other people with MBAs are moving forward but the company does not trust in technical people having senior management positions, then, go ahead, raise your chances by getting the certificate.

2) Your employer pays for the training: There are sometimes cases when you hae been thinking about one particular training program for a very long time and then it jumps at you again. In my case, this was coaching. I had met great coaches in my life so far and I admired their pragmatic techniques. Then, I saw the demand rising. And then, I also saw that my position allowed me to do it. Actually, in this case, I did not end up getting the money from the institution, but the circumstances were great. In a previous case, I had actually convinced my employer to pay for a distant study program because I immediately showed him which additional value I would create with this knowledge.

-> Here, it is not about the brand of the certificate, it was really about the knowledge and the skills. In other cases, you might be aware that your employee is supporting additional training very much and nudges people to get some. In all these cases, you can of course get the training. But again, the programs better have a clear input-output relationship for your career and they do not cost you anything/too much personal money or time.

3) Personal Development/Challenge: Yes, there are always things in life that simply come to you and you feel it is the right time and the right thing to do now. This is the exception to 1) and 2). In this case, there might not be such a strong use-value calculation. There is simply an unexpected opportunity and your gut feeling says: Let’s do this, it feels right. Still, even then, you should sleep over it at least one night to allow for some reality check. Is it affordable? Does it give you any career benefits or is it simply some hobby? Pursuing hobbies is fine but please do not assume that this will advance your career. If everything still feels right, then go ahead.

-> Interestingly enough, also in this case, there is no long-term planning involved in the sense of “which training shall I take part in next year?” No, some things come unexpectedly and this also applies to the content. Imagine you are in HR development and always thought you were a complete idiot when it comes to technical skills. And now, there is some really cool training that simply sounds interesting and valuable for your career, why not accept the challenge? This is also the reason why I am not only talking about personal development in this case but also referring to personal challenges — doing something that you still think you cannot do — this will make you grow because you will most likely succeed in it.

Since these are the cases in which you should say “yes” to some further education program, from my observation, this also means that in all other cases: forget about it, it is not the first step that is crucial. And this thing about the first step is really my biggest learning from the past two years. If you really want to become a high-performer, everything is about implementation. That does not mean that you should stop thinking. No, of course not. Sometimes the first step needs some more thinking because that is the only way that you can really make use of your brain power. Still, the first step is all it takes.

In most cases, this first step is related to collecting hard facts about something. This also applies to my points 1) and 2) above. In order to assess whether some further education will really advance your career, you have to be sure about this based on evidence. If you find out that many people in your company got an MBA for whatever reason but none of them ever got promoted afterwards. Well, think about this. The MBA could still make sense but only if you used it to become more independent, e.g., by changing companies or starting your own business.

By the way, this thing about “participating in some program” in order to climb the career ladder also holds true for internal coaching and mentoring programs. Especially this year, I asked some women about their experiences with internal “talent” programs for women. In most cases, these programs had no actual return on investment, even if the women “just” invested time. Well, time is the most valuable thing in life ever. Some people just realize this when it is too late for pushing the break of self-sacrifice.

Does that sound hard?

Maybe.

I am just putting it into such matter-of-fact words because I am really frustrated about this “addiction” to getting certificates before taking the real first step. And it is an over-performer issue. Especially women who already have plenty of high-level education achievements on their CV tend to have these issues. The reality is: in business there are many things that could be improved. But there is one thing that still counts more than in politics and in science: implementation, getting things done. This also means that you gain trust and credibility by doing things on the job. Hence, completing some extra training, even if you then actually get to apply your knowledge, mostly has a psychological function of giving you self-confidence, that is it. And self-confidence you can build up much quicker and with more fun if you “just do it.”

This “just do it” spirit is also contained in the example Mohr gives to highlight what she means by the “this before that” hiding strategy. I want to quote this passage here in full and not just paraphrase it because, from my perspective, it is a really striking and typical example of how this deferral mechanism kicks in:

I do not need to add more. You have it all in this one short story. I can just encourage everyone to think about these two simple things with respect to your career: 1) What is your goal? 2) What is the first step (based on where you are right now) to get there? If “lack of qualification” as OBJECTIVE CRITERION is NOT part of the feedback, then further education is not an issue RIGHT NOW. It might still turn out that you need some additional training while you are already in the position. But then case 1) kicks in and it is a completely different story than the “training yourself out of the game scenario.”

Finally you might say: “What if I just want to learn this or that because I like it? Why do I have to become a successful career woman?” Answer: This is not what I am saying. I am saying you should be whatever you want to be. In fact, you already are what you want to be — you just need a different perspective to see it. The only thing I am saying is: Be whatever you want to be by DOING whatever you feel like doing. And DO this by taking the easiest route possible, not the hardest and most expensive one just because you are running in the hamster wheel of “I need confirmation by others; I want others to tell me that I am smart and good.”

No, just take the first step and the rest will be history.

Reflection Questions

1) Are you also thinking about some further training program these days? Is this really the first necessary step that takes you closer to your goal? Do not speculate, ask the responsible department and alumni.

2) If you have no specific career goal right now — what is it that you love doing (not just at work?

3) If you completed further training programs in the past which you paid for yourself — which tangible benefits came out of it/them? Write down your answers.

Founder & CEO of Companypoets