What makes a professional?
I’ve been thinking about this for some time now.
Obviously there’s the simple definition of a person that performs a role and gets paid for it.
But I believe it’s more than that, particularly in today’s world where people can have a “portfolio career” where they perform many roles, some paid and some simply for the love of the work.
There is an implicit understanding that when you hire a professional they have the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out the task.
But I’m sure you can think of plenty of people who get paid and yet do a shoddy job. I bet you also know people who do things as a pastime and produce work of the highest caliber. Between these two which one would you say is the professional?
I’ve read plenty of articles about how be a professional or what professional needs, and yet most of those focus on things such turning up on the time always giving 100% and so on. Those are table stakes.
Many years ago one had to undergo a lengthy apprenticeship before being considered a professional, often not reaching that stage until many years into a career. But in today’s world, where knowledge and experience are often outdated in a very short amount of time, apprenticeships are often a thing of the past.
The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that, for me, one of the defining characteristics of a professional is someone who has learned from their mistakes. And the best professionals consistently push the boundaries of their knowledge and experience and use the mistakes inevitably found in new endeavors as a core part of their education.
Anyone can be a professional when everything fits together, people deliver on time, and there are no surprises.
But to be truly worthy of the title “Professional” you need more. You need to be able to adapt to changing situations. You need to be able to anticipate problems and solve them before they occur. And, when finally something does go awry, you have the skills, experience and confidence to work the problem and keep things on track. THAT is what makes a real professional, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re paid to do that or not.
Want to see what a true Professional looks like? Watch the movie Apollo 13. NASA was constantly pushing boundaries. They knew the risks and when things went wrong the Professionals at NASA kept their cool, took what they had and created innovative solutions to get their people home.
Money? That has nothing to do with being a professional. It’s all about attitude and a passion to continually learn.