“A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it” (Alistair Cooke).
ARE YOU A PROFESSIONAL? The American Heritage Dictionary defines a profession as “an occupation or vocation requiring training in the liberal arts or the sciences and advanced training in a specialized field.” By that definition, medicine and law would be professions. There is, however, a more general kind of professionalism that can apply — and should apply — to almost every one of us.
Standards. Professionals hold themselves to higher standards of excellence than amateurs. They’re never content to do mediocre work, and even when they have the knack of doing excellent work easily, they’re not content until the work is the very best they can make it, within the time that’s available. Professionalism means working at the highest level, constantly learning and continually improving.
Ethics. In a world where it sometimes seems that corruption and unfairness have crept into every corner of the workplace, we need to be reminded that it’s only the amateurs who cheat. The true professional is governed by the strictest ethics of his profession. He never bends the rules for personal advantage. “The essence of a genuine professional man is that he cannot be bought” (H. L. Mencken).
Self-discipline. Basketball great Julius Erving once said, “Being a professional is doing all the things you love to do on the days when you don’t feel like doing them.” In my line of work, for example, a writer who can’t write except when he’s in the mood is, at least in that respect, still an amateur. Professionalism means that we learn how to put mind over matter. It means training the flesh to follow the spirit, rather than allowing the flesh to run (and often ruin) the show.
We don’t have to make our living in one of the recognized professions to get the benefit of professionalism in our work. Whatever we do, we can do it with the attitude of the professional rather than the amateur. We can hold ourselves to higher standards, finer ethics, and better self-discipline than those who are content to just get by.
If your work is worth doing, it’s worth doing with excellence. At the end of the day, you wouldn’t want it any other way, would you?
“Never let it be said of you that you lived an amateur life” (Anonymous).