I’ve noticed some outstanding examples of professionalism across a variety of industries.
Here’s a few examples;
- Last summer, lineman from all over the country assembled in the Midwest to work 10+ days straight, in 100 degree heat, over the July 4th holiday to restore power after summer storms left a record number of people without electricity. They did this while maintaining safety and dealing with increasingly desperate and frustrated customers.
- The National Teacher of the Year, Rebecca Mieliwocki, a seventh-grade English teacher in Burbank, California, was honored at the White House. She gave an inspiring address that discussed the many (and ever-increasing) challenges teachers face. Then, she says (I’m paraphrasing), yeah, it can be tough, but we’re professionals. We need to remember why we’re there, think of our students and we need to handle our work and ourselves professionally. http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/306920-1
- At a concert I went to last year, the crowd was dead and disconnected from the show. I’ve been to a lot of concerts and I’ve seen this particular band multiple times. They’ve never played a bad show that I’ve seen and they weren’t playing one this night. In fact, despite the complete lack of energy / interest / participation from the crowd, the band didn’t waver in the quality of their performance at all. They actually played harder, worked harder to try to get the crowd involved. It would have been easier for them to say, you guys obviously don’t care we’re here, so we’ll just half-ass play a few more songs and call it quits, but they didn’t. They mustered their professionalism in a tough circumstance and played on. For the few of us who were engaged and interested, it was a hell of a good time, despite the sea of apparent zombies that found their way in that night.
- My local Chic-Fil-A should run a training school for professional conduct. EVERY person who works there is polite and professional at all times. And for the cynics out there, yes, there is a professional manner in which one can make and serve french fries. This location goes out of its way to find ways to be more accommodating and professional while serving fast food. They help you to a table most of the time, they escort people in and out with umbrellas when its raining, they end every interaction with a customer and with each other with, ‘It’s my pleasure.” Is it really? No, probably not. But in the context of their job, they make me feel like it is. It’s exceptionally nice compared to feeling that placing my order is like asking the worker for a great favor at other fast food restaurants.
The unifying theme here is PRIDE. The good kind. The kind that makes a person care about the quality of their work, whatever that work may be. These examples, along with my own corporate experience have taught me the value professionalism can bring to any interaction.
This doesn’t mean professionals don’t get discouraged, frustrated, disappointed, fed up, worn out, all of the above. It just means they deal with it, and they don’t let it affect the quality of their work, sometime for no other reason than the standard of quality and performance to which they hold themselves, even when no one is watching. Especially, when no one else is watching.
Professionalism takes a certain amount of emotional maturity and some days it seems fewer and fewer people are making the effort.
Passion v. Professionalism
Something inside a person has to drive the focus on quality. Often, especially for artists, it’s the love of your work, an identity driven devotion to your art and what it means to you and what you think it means to the world. And that’s great. Passion can carry you far if you’re lucky enough to work at something you love. But the best among us, the ones who reach the greatest heights are typically passionate and professional.
Passion is often the spark. Professionalism is the skill and effort put forth to tend the fire.
Passion usually fuels the parts of the work we love. Professionalism gets us through the parts we don’t love as much.
Passion is usually tied to a certain degree of natural talent and interest. Professionalism helps bridge the gap between our abilities and the next level.
Professionalism magnifies natural talent and shows a persons potential.
We have to establish our own professionally appropriate standards and not break them, even in a flash when we might have every reason to, when anyone would agree that our actions (be it an outburst, a telling off, a lapse in response) is understandable, maybe even applaud-able. We need to do our jobs, and, whenever we can, make it look easy.
That’s the mark of a true professional. And sometimes, if we’re really good, we can even make it look fun.