Professional identity: 1 + 1 > 2

Photo by Torrey TrustHave you always been in the same profession? If not, this post may resonate with you (or not). Either way, I hope your multi-professional backgrounds are acknowledged for how they make you a stronger professional!

We live in a world where diversity, multidisciplinarity, and multi-professionality still need to battle their way to claim equal status with conventionality and consistent professional backgrounds. Yet, those with diverse, multi-professional backgrounds can bring unique advantages to their work (e.g., Ronald Burt, a famous social scientist has shown how people who cross social boundaries are sources of new ideas because they bridge knowledge and sources which are otherwise disconnected).  I focus here primarily on multi-professionals, or those with diverse professional backgrounds, especially if these are not obviously related, as a way to reflect on my own experience.

pilates teacher traineeI wasn’t always a movement specialist. I have a PhD in Information Science (UW), a decade of research experience (investigating adolescent social development and learning, online communities, and information literacy), and work experience in media production and management. After my PhD, I chose deliberately to dedicate my time to teaching Pilates and developing connections to build pathways for youth’s education because these choices made sense for my particular life conditions. To date, I am still happy with my decision!

1+1 is less than 1? This is what we as human beings some times conclude when we can’t make sense of someone’s multi-professional background.  I have a concrete contrasting example. A colleague of mine (organization kept anonymous to protect this colleague’s identity) is highly sought after as a Pilates instructor because of this colleague’s training background, years of teaching, and future educational pursuit (again, keeping it vague for confidentiality reasons). In contrast, a naturopath with a former degree in engineering is seen as less credible, when in fact, he has completed the same degree in naturopathy as others in his field. Does it matter then that he HAD another high accomplishment in a seemingly unrelated field? The way this naturopath is judged is an example of how 1 + 1 is seen as less than 1.

[As of 9/3/2015, I have another update: Yesterday, at a Pilates class I subbed, a client asked whether Pilates teaching is everything I do. As that is the case at the moment, I responded positively, and the client gave her friend a thumbs up, as though to indicate that because Pilates teaching is all I do, I am a more valuable teacher?]

But 1 + 1 can be more than 2! I don’t know the aforementioned naturopath personally, but suspect he has a lot more to offer than his degrees and profession show on documents. Similarly, I am more than the Pilates instructor certification I obtained, or the half a year of Iyengar Yoga Teacher Training. I constantly engage in self-directed continuing education to better serve my clients. I quickly discern which sources of information about body mechanics are reliable, how to validate the information, and how to apply it on clients’ particular needs.

One concrete example is the exercise “chest expansion” in Pilates (For those unfamiliar with Pilates, this is an exercise, where people pull tension straps along either side of their hips with straight arms in order to create a more open chest–see image). AdChopperI often see Pilates instructors, the aforementioned colleague included, ask clients to pull their arms further back. Although this requires more visible effort, the effect of chest expansion is usually diminished the further the arms are pulled back. Try doing this yourself: with straight arms along your hips holding on to tension straps (the tension is important) extend or pull them back past your buttocks. You’ll see that either the corners of your shoulders round forward, or you end up retracting your scapula (i.e., bringing your shoulder blades closer to each other, which in itself inhibits appropriate extension of the upper chest.  Instead, very nuanced adjustments need to be made at the shoulder girdle and positioning of the scapula to achieve maximum efficiency on this exercise (more on proper chest expansion in another post). Without intending to invalidate what other Pilates instructors teach, I credit my knowledge to the fact that my diverse background adds up to more than just its parts; that is, 1 + 1 is more than 2 in this case. I am a keen observer, know what information sources to rely on, and am experienced applying integrated knowledge in a logical way.

So, although some times I wish to not reveal my research background to clients for fear of producing confusion, I want them to realize they will gain the most efficient sessions with me!

For those of you interested in how the “chest expansion” exercise can be performed more efficiently, I will leave that information to another blog post. Feel free to contact me if you are eager to find out more.


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