Been there; done that.

Richard A. Marker

“Why?” A long time colleague and friend asked when I told him I was going to attend a presentation he was making. “You know and teach this; why do you need to be there?”

My colleague was being kind, but it is true that I have achieved a certain degree of recognition in my field. In addition to being a practitioner, I teach my expertise at a major university and am invited to speak extensively around the country and elsewhere in the world. His surprise and question were not totally off base. Indeed, one might legitimately ask why would I come to hear a colleague speak about matters on which I myself am considered an expert.

That, to my mind, is exactly the point. It is so easy to see oneself as beyond that level. Why hear someone else reiterate what you know, perhaps better? Why give up an afternoon to listen to people exploring topics and questions which are old hat to you?

But it is precisely when one thinks that one knows it all when one begins to lose one’s edge. When one thinks there is no more to learn, the world begins to pass you by. I make it a point to attend as many events in my field as possible to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

What do I learn? I learn that there are often new ways of asking old questions? I learn that the environment for those questions is constantly changing so that the questions and answers may mean different things at different times. I learn that there are sometimes new answers that even experienced commentators, so called experts, hadn’t thought of. I am reminded that for those for whom the questions are new, it doesn’t matter that others have answered them before – the questions and concerns are as fresh as the first time they were asked. And, if one is being fully honest, one learns that, as much as one knows, one really doesn’t know it all. And most sobering of all, one learns that there are those who might even know it or say it better

My field is one which one typically enters by serendipity. When circumstances presented themselves, I decided to teach what I wish someone had taught me; rarely have any of my colleagues had formal training. Yet I frequently hear my colleagues tell me that they don’t see any reason to attend educational seminars or take courses. [unless of course they are the speaker]. It is too bad because I see too many of them repeating mistakes which they needn’t make.

By not being committed to continuing learning, one can be much less effective than one could be. By seeing oneself as beyond, or worse, above it all, one quickly can become stale, dated, yesterday’s news. I, for one, would rather be tomorrow’s news and more effective today than I was yesterday.

That is why I attended my colleague’s seminar...and was glad that I did.
Richard Marker is co-principal of Marker Goldsmith Advisors, a firm which advises philanthropists and foundations on strategies of their giving, and is also Senior Fellow at NYU’s Center for Philanthropy. During his career he has been a professor, CEO of an international philanthropic foundation, a management consultant, and a senior executive of an international non-profit organization.

He can be reached at

Author's Bio: 

During his career, Marker has been a professor, ceo of an international philanthropic foundation, a management consultant, and senior executive of an international on-profit organization. Currently, he advises foundations and foundations on the strategies of their philanthropic giving, and teaches at NYU's Center for Philanthropy. He has spoken in 26 countries on 5 continents and in 43 of the United States.