What does it mean to be a professional? Does it mean that you have some sort of more valuable opinion on a subject than I? Does it mean you are better at it than I am? Why do people love to say they are a professional at something as if it gives them some sort of credibility? Does being a professional at something make you better at it than anyone else?
Pro – fes – sion – al :
1) adjective – following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain.
2) noun – a person who is expert at his or her work.
The problem with words like this, in the English language, is that they have two radically different definitions which people interchange so that it suits them. Taking the first definition above, I would be able to call myself a professional web developer/designer, a professional backup and disaster recovery administrator, a professional mechanic, and a professional computer repair man. I do not, however, declare myself an expert in any of those things.
Where does the line get drawn? I feel so many people claim they are a professional at something because they have made a job out of it, yet, they use the word professional is such a context that it makes it sound as if they are an expert, for their own gain. There are many people who take pictures for money at their friends garage band’s shows at the local bar, who claim to be professional photographers. Many people who have been paid $200 to play at the same bar, who call themselves professional musicians, people who have put together a catchy hip-hop beat on their home pc who call themselves professional producers, and many people who won a few bucks at a local game tournament who call themselves professional gamers. The only thing these people have in common is, they made a few dollars doing something, so they use the word professional to make it sound as if they are an expert at doing such a thing.
I think a distinction needs to be made, in a few ways. First of all, being a professional does not automatically mean you an expert, or even good at, what it is you are a professional at. It simply means you make money doing it. Also, making money doing something, does not mean you exhibit any professionalism.
Food for thought:
Michael Phelps – Not a professional swimmer, clearly, the best swimmer in the world.
Stephen Baldwin – Professional Actor, clearly, the worst actor in the world.
All things not being created equal, professional does not always mean good, and does not always mean expert. However, when someone claims to be a professional, they usually convey it sound as if they are. This article was prompted by a friend of mine who showed me this survey, which asks people to declare what type of photographer they are.
If you read down the list, you will see a common trend. Some of the better photographers who post a response modestly claim to either be an amateur, or worse. While most of the teenagers, ranging from 13-17 years old, claim to be professional or semi-pro, because they take shots of their friends band, or try to sell their pictures online on some stock photo website. Clearly, they just love the word “pro”. In the world of photography, if you have some sort of crazy expensive Nikon digital SLR, you must obviously be pro. Especially if you don’t even know how to use the majority of the features the camera has.
So, it seems the best definition for professional these days is: Something you make money doing, but aren’t necessarily good at. What about professionalism then? Do professionals always exhibit professionalism, is the showing of professionalism only limited to people who claim to be professional?
To me, professionalism is very difficult to describe in words, but easy to exhibit through actions. I feel that there are many people who exhibit the absolute best traits of professionalism and are not even professionals, and that the vast majority of professionals do not exhibit any professionalism whatsoever. Professionalism is an attitude, it is a certain modesty and open-mindedness which allows you to take the suggestions and input of others, and use that to better do whatever it is you do. It is the mindset which allows you to constantly strive to be better.
In today’s world, people are so obsessed with titles and powerful words they can use to make themselves appear to be something of importance. Most self-proclaimed professionals are too obsessed with themselves and the idea that they are some sort of authority on a subject to have the professionalism to actually become better at what it is they do.
Actions speak louder than words, and describing yourself as a professional, but acting like an amateur, makes you an amateur in my eyes.