A few days ago I shared with a client that I recently sat for and passed the CPO® (Certified Professional Organizer) exam. Her response? “I guess that means you can charge more money.” Quite honestly, that took my breath away and I was speechless for a minute or two—which rarely happens to me. When I regained my composure, I explained to her why I had put myself through the blood, sweat, and tears of pursuing this certification. But you, my friend, will have to wait to learn my reasons until the end of this post. First, let’s start with my journey.
Fall of 2014—this was when I finally had the opportunity to leave my 30-year human resources career, pursue my dream of becoming a professional organizer, and start my own business. After making that decision, the first thing I did was join NAPO (National Association of Organizing & Productivity Professionals) and begin taking courses to learn the intricacies of the field. For those of you who know me, I tend to be a perfectionist, so I wanted to do things the “right” way.
Professional development is something I highly value, so I took course after course to build my knowledge base so I could help clients as much as possible. During that time, I earned three NAPO Specialist Certificates in the areas that spoke to my heart:
- Essentials of Organizing
- Residential Organizing
- Workplace Productivity
While I loved them, they weren’t the ultimate trophy. Throughout my career, I heard about the CPO® designation and considered pursuing it someday as well, but I always stopped short. Like many of us do with larger-than-life goals, I justified putting it off. I told myself that I didn’t have time—that I was too busy building my business. Finally a couple of years back during COVID when my business slowed, I no longer had an excuse. Was it divine intervention? I’m not sure. But whatever the reason, I seized the opportunity and purchased and completed the four-hour NAPO course “Preparing for the CPO® exam.” Once completed, I began studying the exam outline and content.
The CPO Exam Outline:
The exam content is developed by Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) from the organizing and productivity industry. Approximately every five years, they conduct a Job Task Analysis (JTA) and from this, they identify the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs) required of a competent CPO®. These are grouped into the six major domains below in case you’re wondering what the heck is on this exam.
- Preliminary Communication/Qualifying Client Interview
- Needs Assessment
- Project Plan Development
- Project Plan Implementation
- Follow Up and Maintenance
- Legal and Ethical Responsibilities
The next step? I took NAPO’s advice and joined a study group with “fellow” class members spread across the U.S. We split the suggested reading list of twenty-eight books among us and were individually tasked with reading our assigned books, writing a synopsis of each and then presenting that summary to the rest of the group during our subsequent, regularly-scheduled virtual meetings. It was a long and arduous process but well worth the time.
Where I Got “Stuck”:
My next step was to apply to sit for the exam but lo and behold, I didn’t—even though I exceeded the education and experience requirements, Why didn’t I register right away? Truth be told, it was the “F” word— Fear. I asked myself:
- I haven’t taken a standardized test in a million years! What if I don’t pass?
- What will my family, friends, and fellow classmates think of me?
- What will I think of myself?
During the next several months of COVID-19, I continued to study the CPO® class materials. Even though I hadn’t registered for the exam, I still wanted to take this incredible knowledge base and share it with my clients through my hands-on sessions with them.
Eventually, the risk of COVID-19 started to subside so the time came to rebuild my business, which had taken a hard hit. Lucky (or unlucky) for me, that presented me with yet another excuse to procrastinate. “I can’t possibly register for the exam now. I don’t have time to study. I have to work,” I told myself.
Can you relate to a fear that has paralyzed you?
I don’t recall the exact moment it happened but I had a revelation— “If not now, when?” I had already invested so much time, money, and effort in the CPO® exam. So when would I finally register to take it? And even though I was already applying that knowledge with my clients without the CPO® initials after my name, I still felt like a fraud. I told myself (the perfectionist) that education wouldn’t really count until I officially earned that designation.
And so I eventually registered, and then I studied for even more hours on end—before work, after work, on weekends—whenever I could squeeze it in. I eventually took the test and found it extremely difficult. They allowed two hours to answer 125 questions and I finished with only five minutes to spare. Did I pass? Did I fail? I had absolutely no idea! The best part was that I acknowledged and faced my biggest fear—that I wouldn’t be able to memorize the information required to pass the test—and kicked it to the curb. The worst part—waiting for the results.
After 3.5 weeks of waiting, I finally got the email I had anxiously prayed for—that I had passed the exam and could now be referred to as Brenda Tringali, CPO®. Truth be told—I cried. Why? Of course, part of it was exhilaration, relief, and joy. But the other part was frustration with myself. Why had I allowed a negative mindset about my abilities to stand in the way?
This got me thinking about my clients. As I did with my exam, so many of them put off decluttering and organizing due to fear. It wasn’t until I changed my mindset and I dared to face my fears that I was successful. And that’s what I teach them. The first step is about changing your mindset and facing your fear. Is it easy? NO! Is it worth it? YES! Because as of the date of this blog, I’m one of only 347 CPOs® internationally and I’m one of only two in South Carolina; the other located in Charleston.
Will my passion for education stop here? Absolutely not! Recertification is required every three years by 1) attesting to continued practice as an organizing/productivity professional and adherence to the BCPO Code of Ethics and 2) either proof of 45 or more eligible CEUs (Continuing Education Units) or taking and passing another CPO® exam. I can’t wait!
My Top 10 Reasons for Pursuing this Goal:
Congratulations on being so patient! You finally made it to the section where I share my top 10 reasons for pursuing the CPO®:
- The satisfaction of earning the ONLY certification in the organizing and productivity industry that follows accreditation standards
- Knowing that I’m providing my clients with the highest caliber of knowledge and experience I possibly can
- Gives me a competitive advantage with businesses and individuals who require/desire a credentialed professional
- Validates my knowledge and experience based on the highest industry, psychometric, and legal standards
- Demonstrates that I stay current in an increasingly competitive job market
- Confirms my self-confidence, professional commitment, and personal initiative in a professional environment governed by rigorous standards
- Exemplifies the importance of professional standards, and contributes to evolving standards in the industry as a whole
- Validates my self-confidence
- Proves to myself that I could go accomplish yet another huge goal
- Confirms that my 60+ year-old brain could still memorize and apply information to help my clients
Now back to the client I mentioned in the opening paragraph who assumed that my top reason for earning this credential was so I could charge more money. I’m thrilled to announce that not only did money NOT make my Top 10 list, it never even occurred to me! If you know me at all, you know that I’m not motivated by money. I’m motivated by helping people transform, which is why I developed the following mission statement for At Your Fingertips Organizing:
To educate, inspire, and empower people to reduce their overwhelming and stressful physical, paper, digital, attention, and schedule clutter so they can simplify their lives and focus on the people and things most important to them!
Thank you for taking the time to read about my goal, journey, and success. But don’t stop here. I want you to take it a step further and ask yourself the following questions:
- What goal have you put on the back burner due to fear?
- What negative story are you telling yourself that you need to replace with a positive story?
- What’s your new story/mindset?
- What are three things you can do to conquer your fear?
- Which step will you bravely take TODAY?
Click here to learn just a few of the ways I can help YOU!