What is a professional?

I remember having a debate about this with some buddies of mine a few years back. The answer that seemed to be most popular was “something you have a degree in.” This would include things like accountants, engineers, journalists, etc. I was one of the dissenters (imagine that :-)). I said a professional is “anything you get paid to do.” I was getting the sense that people like me, working in administrative support positions, should not be considered professional, and that the “International Association of Administrative Professionals,” of which I was a member, was over-inflating the importance of itself and its members, that we aren’t really “professionals.”

Dicitonary.com defines professional as “following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain: such as a professional builder.” That tells me that I was the most accurate in that debate, as I called “professional” something you are paid to do. But one of the other definitions listed in that dictionary.com entry is “appropriate to a profession: as in professional objectivity.” This speaks to the attributes of a professional, as opposed to the meaning of the word professional. That’s what I’d like to look at here. What are some aspects of being professional?

Honesty – This is critical not just to your professional world, but your entire world. People should be able to count on you being honest. This includes admitting mistakes and taking ownership of them, and not blaming others or circumstances. To say “yes, that was on me” will help build trust. If two different people ask you a question, both should get the same answer.  

Follow-through – Along the same lines as honesty, people should be able to trust that when you say, “I’ll take care of that by tomorrow,” you will do exactly that. Certainly you may come across obstacles you didn’t anticipate and things beyond your control can derail your plans. But those should be the exception. The majority of the time, people should be able to expect that you will do what you say you will do.

Timeliness – Truth be told, this is the inspiration for this post. The other day as I was preparing to do my Facebook Live, the Mrs. let me know that one of our friends was going to drop by to give her a few things. The one thing that you can always guarantee about this particular friend is that whatever time you are given that will be the time of arrival, add at least 2 hours to it. But of course, because I believe Murphy was an optimist, I reasoned that the second I started my FB Live, there would be a knock on the door and I’d have to stop and start over after our friend left. But if I waited, I’d be waiting for hours. I chose option 2 and it was 4 hours before I could do my FB Live. We all know people with this hang-up – they’re great people, but you know they won’t be on time. If you struggle with punctuality, stop and consider what impact your being late has on others. A short examination will reveal a lot of impact on a lot of people.

These traits can apply to anything you do for a living, whether it’s a white-collar position, a hands-on trade, or a job you have spent years perfecting without a formalized education. No matter what you do, if you can be described with these characteristics. You are a professional.

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