The Many Sides of ‘Professional’

I often hear over and over again "I'm not a professional" when it comes to their careers.  Usually it's in the form of "I can't do that, I'm not a professional" when I hear it, and usually from a person forgetting that all professionals have to start somewhere.

I also hear people talk about being professional.  It's usually how one acts professional, or dresses professional.  Reams of books are written on how to repress your urges, dress like everyone else, and thus somehow "be professional."

I see "professional" everywhere.  So what is all this "professional" about?

I think when it comes to "professional" people are often talking about different things.

This is when you practice a profession well enough to make a living at it (note that doesn't always mean doing it well period) and maintain that level of skill.   Thus people are "Professional Programmers" and "Professional Actors" and soforth.

Being a professional requires the skills, background, and holding the proper position.

Being professional is when one takes a professional approach to something – doing it well, doing it right, and understanding it.  One may not practice that skill or activity as a profession, but one does things appropriately and does teem well.

A person may keep a sports history collection in a very organized "professional" manner, or a would-be game programmer's who keeps up on industry news is "being professional."

Acting professional is when people take an appropriate, dignified, mature approach to situations involving their profession (even if they don't yet practice it).  Oddly, I find people can be A professional and yet not act professional.

A lot of books on professionalism, I note, focus on this aspect of "professional."

Looking this over, I think it's important to remember professionalism really comes in three parts; How you act, the approach you take, and what you do.  Not every so-called professional actually does all of these things (I tend to find "being" and "acting" get short shrift). 

Secondly, these tie together.  If you want to be A PROFESSIONAL you want to ACT professional in your manners and approach, and BE professional in our efforts to grow and develop in your career.

"Professional" may mean different things, but the many definitions tend to hang together to help you BE one.

– Steven Savage