My CPSM Journey: Putting Yourself First

My CPSM Journey: Putting Yourself First

Earning my CPSM was one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of 2019. I underestimated the level of effort it takes to carve out time to study and retain the information. I like to consider myself a lifelong learner, so I thought all would go well even though college ended about 10 years ago.

I thought that things like not having any children or pets and having a husband who cooks dinner would really give me an edge and allow me more time to focus. However, I quickly learned the greatest obstacle to my success was myself. I had to repeatedly, deliberately choose myself and my own goals over the “crises” (real and perceived) that life constantly threw at me—and make good on a goal I set in writing for myself years ago.

So why did I do it? Originally, my goal was about making more money. I wasn’t too far out of college and new to the A/E/C industries when I came across the infamous SMPS infographic about the benefits of earning the CPSM. I needed to make more money without creating more student loan debt, so earning eligibility to sit for the exam seemed like an obvious choice.

As I progressed in my career, the exam became less about money and more about credibility. Earning this designation represents having a particular level of A/E/C marketing acumen. It places me in league of people I highly respect as professionals. Many of them are my mentors. Now, I get the chance to mentor others and give back at a different level as a CPSM. It’s a great feeling to help others navigate the careers that will help them reach important milestones personally and professionally.

What was the CPSM journey like? It was a bumpy ride. I initially joined the CPSM study group hosted by SMPS Maryland. At the first study session, I told the group I couldn’t continue. My husband I were moving to North Carolina in just a few weeks.

I moved to North Carolina, started a new job, and got involved with SMPS Research Triangle immediately. I put my CPSM aspirations on the back burner for a few months. Then the chapter opened their study group this past spring. We had a lot of interest but, by the time we got to the second study session, we were down to two people—me and the person I still affectionately call my “study buddy.” She and I met each week on Wednesdays at 7:30 a.m. before work for months.

My study tools included the Markendium books, A/E/C Marketing Fundamentals, the old CPSM study guide and the new CPSM study guide. I used the old one mostly as a source of additional questions for practice. I reached out to co-workers who passed the exam recently. They offered practice questions from their former study groups. I used those to help me understand the concepts needed to pass the exam. It’s more than memorization.

I also reached out to Deb Osuch, CPSM, after reading about her CPSM journey. She told me that reading the Markendium books the second time really helped her. I took her advice and began reading them twice. Realizing how much confirmation bias happens in your first read was eye-opening.

With all these materials and support you would think I walked into the exam feeling super confident. Not the case! I was so intimidated I rescheduled my test a few times. Finally, the tips in the study guide about attitude and passing a few practice exams got me off the fence and into the exam room in November. I set this goal for completion in 2019, and I owed it to myself to at least try. I took the test on a Saturday morning. To maximize my odds, I took the day before my exam off from work.

I sat in that chair, frazzled with my heart racing, for the first few minutes. Then an hour and a half passed, and I’d gotten through all the questions. I circled back one last time through my answers and hit submit. The wait was on.

Days later, I got an envelope in the mail. I wasn’t expecting it for at least another week. The size of the envelope should have been my first cue but, I still didn’t know until I ripped the edge of the envelope and my CPSM pin fell out into my hand. I instantly burst into tears, shouted “I passed” and hugged my husband. He stopped cooking dinner and insisted we go out to celebrate.

If one of your goals is to obtain your CPSM designation, make it a goal for 2020. It’s the new year and a time to put yourself first.


Article written by Uniqueka Walcott, CPSM, proposal manager for Moffatt & Nichol. If you’d like to share your CPSM journey, please reach out to Linda Smolkin, SMPS content manager. 

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