Geek Job Guru: Unprofessional Professionalism

styling and looking professional

“They’re so unprofessional.”

I’ve heard this many a time. Sometimes it’s with a voice crackling with anger, or dripping in acid frustration. Other times it’s said with an air of incomprehension, or the staggering words of disbelief. But it’s something I hear many times from many people.

I assume they tell me as I seem professional. Or look professional. I think it’s kind of the discount-Hugh Beaumont looks.

Either way, I hear the complaints about people being unprofessional a lot.

Sometimes even on the job.

Unprofessionalism in Fandom

I hear about unprofessionalism in the fan, geek, otaku scenes a great deal (probably as people like to complain to me). The angry webmaster who can’t get updates. The fanfic writer whose editor thinks “Deadlne” is a new superhero. The bloggers who aren’t even sure who’s running their site.

It seems people get very unprofessional in their hobbies, and it drives those they work with up a wall.

It may seem odd to complain about this at first, because our hobbies are recreational, right? We’re not there to wear ties, sit in meetings, and use flowcharts (Ok, I do, but this is me). Is professionalism really part of the fan scene?

I’d say yes, it actually has a place. A large one.

The first is that if you take on certain tasks, even in a hobbyist capacity, you should do them professionally because you made an agreement to do them right. Professionalism is practicing competency and acting appropriately to your role, and that matters wether you’re paid or doing it for spare manga. It’s keeping a promise, essentially.

But there’s an even larger place for professionalism for profans.

Namely, when you practice it in your hobbies, you practice it for real life.

Hey, where else are you going to practice professionalism anyway?

The Training Ground Of Professionalism

We toss around the word professionalism a bit too much in the career world, and yet I don’t see it practiced as much as I’d like. Many is the time I read a news story about someone in my field and cringe at their behavior. Many is the time I wonder how some supposedly educated and skilled person can screw things up or be so clueless.

It almost makes me miss suits and ties and formal meetings. Then I come to my senses and realize maybe we could just all try and do things in a bit more intelligent, appropriate, manner. I hate ties anyway.

Which brings me to our hobbies.

A lot of us do what are basically jobs as hobbies. We may not think of it as such (though over the years that’s changing, I feel). We are, in short, engaging in secondary or tertiary professions through our hobbies.

Now I expect these to be fun and relaxing, that’s kind of the point. But these hobby activities also require us to be skilled, competent, and appropriate – and some activities essentially have the same demands as a job, as anyone running a convention knows. In short, the stakes may be different and the rules a bit more flexible, but they require professionalism.

So here’s a thought for you – use your hobbies as a training ground to be more professional. You’re going to have to be one anyway, so why not learn to do it while you’re messing around and enjoying yourself? Go be the best convention webmaster, put out your AMV’s on schedule, don’t give in to the flame war. Practice professionalism in your hobby.

Besides, to be honest, how many times have you seen a meltdown over a bad forum post, a lousy piece of art, and so on? How many times have you seen a lack of professionalism cause conflict and stress (again, if you’e worked on a convention, you’ve been there). A little professionalism can go a long way towards things NOT going too far, if you get my drift.

Practicing Professionalism

So how do you use your hobby to practice being professional? Actually, I think a lot of people do it – or at least people I know. We just don’t think about it, so best way I can put it is to give some examples.

  • Time. If you’ve got a deadline, meet it. That may seem simple, but I’m sure that there’s something in your past where, in a totally “fun” activity people ruined it by not getting something done on time. This is good practice for professional behavior and for not driving your friends stark raving bonkers.
  • Quality. Simply, do your best at what you do as a hobby – and enjoy it because your motivations are likely inspiring you to be your best (which may be a good lesson). Don’t shirk, though remember there are times that you have to.
  • Duty. Carry out the role you’ve taken, be it artist or writer, convention head or webmaster. Act as if it really are a profession and do what you think a professional would do. It’s not just good for not doing things half-assed, you’ll also get to know a profession better.
  • Manner. Manners are underrated, and we live in a time where an angerpost or a flame war is all too normal for people. Acting professional in our hobbies cultivates appropriate manners – and probably prevents that next argument over if “Naruto Orange” is a good name for a punch at a party (note -it is not).
  • Communications. Ever wonder what the hell is going on at work and why people aren’t telling each other stuff? Happens in our hobbies too. You can practice good communications in your hobbies and develop skills that you will use elsewhere, and not drive people crazy by not using them. Er . . . you get the idea.
  • Documentation. Now this is a favorite point of mine, and certainly the results of psychological scarring in my IT career, but good documentation is important to anything, a job doubly so. Your hobby may involve documentable things, from code to editorial comments, so bloody well use it. Learn to write this stuff, someday someone will thank you for not raising their blood pressure.

There’s more, of course. Think about what you want to do better as a professional – and what a professional should be – and take it to your hobbies. You’ll be better, have more fun, reduce stress, and be a better professional. The opportunities are amazing.

But keep having fun. THat’s why in the end I like to note that professionalism, for all its benefits, also reduces the stress.

Go Pro You Know?

So there’s my thoughts on hobby as professional training ground. And to those of you who have complained to me, you’re welcome. Feel free to show this article to people driving you crazy. Or use the advice so you appear to be wise and understanding, I’m easy.

On a serious note, I also think professionalism is important in passion – the commitment, the manner, the enthusiasm, the detail. When we truly care about something, the involvement itself is akin to professional behavior. I think in cultivating this we not just improve, but we enjoy deeper.

It seems to be win-wn to me.

– Steven Savage