Collateral (2004)

What does professionalism look like to me?

Beyond basic competency in your job, professionalism is an attitude that I think is lacking in a lot of people.

It is something that you need to train and work continuously to maintain.

Just having a job, doesn’t make you a professional in my eyes. Everyone can get a job. It doesn’t matter what background you have or what field you chose.

A consummate professional, in my eyes, is someone who espouses getting the job done, above everything else.

There is a certain ruthlessness that comes with being a professional. It’s not about being an arsehole all the time, or kiss-arsing everyone you deem above you.

It is about checking your ego at the door, acknowledging problems for what they are and being pragmatic in how you find and apply solutions. Some solutions require you to bring out your inner arsehole. Other answers may be found from stroking the egos of people above you.

Professionalism means that you don’t let emotions cloud your judgement or criticisms and apply them fairly without being malicious. It means that when you are confronted with an uncomfortable co-worker or even a friend, you can disassociate your personal feelings to your professional duties.

So much of being a professional is swallowing your ego and ideals for the sake of the job.

No matter how much you might hate the rules, your boss or even your co-workers, you need to put it aside for the objective.

Complete your mission, no matter the cost.

Which is where I want to touch on the personal cost of being a professional.

No matter the job, no matter how much you might enjoy or hate the environment, there are going to be people you don’t get along with. Ideologies, morals and personalities clash all the time. I know that in my current retail role, I don’t have an ounce of respect for any of my bosses. They’re hopelessly out of touch with the situation on the ground, incredibly overbearing and controlling and I suspect, they don’t take very kindly to my maverick attitude to authority.

That said, I know that I am professional about my role. I recognise the one major benefit of this job … that I can write on this blog during dull hours of work and that I’ve somehow managed to carve a small niche, in where I am actually getting paid to write and do retail work.

This small solace, amidst all the terrible mismanagement, is what keeps me from snapping. I can tolerate a lot, as long as I can write.

Which is why, despite personal cost, I can keep a professional demeanor at work and towards my bosses. This one benefit, trumps all the negative aspect of work.

I think that is the key to being professional. You have to view everything as objectively as possible and consider what are your limits.

Knowing your limits … that leads me into something that I think all professionals should have … high emotional intelligence.

Any idiot can be a professional. It’s not hard to learn skills, once you are getting paid to do so or forced to learn them. A monkey can use a hammer, just like a university graduate with no life experience can be taught how to calculate the trajectory of a rocket re-entering Earth’s atmosphere and it’s most likely impact point.

What is often not taught, is how to communicate effectively with people you dislike, how not to be the arsehole at work and what are your personal limits.

Some people don’t have any concept of work-life balance. Which is incredibly detrimental to their professional life. Balance in all aspects of life is crucial to success and mental health. You enjoy work more when you spend the money you earned on things that matter to you … fine dining, sports, art galleries, concerts, racing or in my case, guns and books.

Understand and explore what your limits are. Don’t be the person that clock offs from work and immediately go home every night of the week. Expend a little bit more energy into living after work. Flirt with people, interact with your bartender, dance the night away …. have good conversation or just exercise with your dog.

When you discover that you actually have a lot more energy than you think, that work isn’t everything to your life, you’re going to find out more about yourself. And when you know yourself better, your emotional intelligence is going to rise, because you’ll see everyone around you, suffering from the same difficult acts and tribulations that come with work, life and play.

When you are a true professional, you’ll find it easier to manage your work-load and can even help others out.

I’m a firm believer in the concept that everyone is born with a “backpack” on their shoulders.

In this backpack, you are going to fill everything in it. Work. Relationships with strangers. Good memories. Bad experiences. Friendships. Lovers.

Often, without realising it, we fill this backpack with stuff that we don’t mean to take on.

Our bosses’ angry tirade at us. Our lover’s trauma. Parental expectations. False ideas about who we are.

Sometimes we forget to lighten this load and it creates a huge burden on our shoulders. I like to think that everyone can carry their backpack at 80% capacity comfortably. But too often we over-extend and end up shouldering 90%, or even 110%.

If you have a reasonably high emotional intelligence, you’ll know exactly when you are exceeding the weight limit in your backpack and you’ll start dumping things that you shouldn’t be carrying in the first place. It could be as innocuous as taking a bit of time off work. Or it could be as drastic as having a conversation with your partner, about how they need to learn to shoulder their 80% better, because goddamnit, you’re already loaded down, you don’t need to be carrying their arse along as well.

This is what I mean by exploring your limits as a professional. Your personal affects your professional life as well. By being pro-active at managing your limits, you can do your job better. Less things annoy you, work becomes a bit easier to handle and you can instinctively know when you can take a little bit more than 80% on your shoulders and when you shouldn’t.

More importantly though, you possessing a high emotional intelligence means you can manage people around you better, no matter their personalities and be more flexible in how you cope with difficult situations. You will find it easier to tap into your sides of your personalities and be more pragmatic in how you approach problems.

That ability to adapt, improvise and overcame any obstacles, regardless of personal strife or ideology is what makes you a professional in my eyes.

It is such a pity that more people aren’t taught the importance of balancing all aspects of their lives. Too many people experience the same pitfall of working becoming their existence, without realising that they can exist as individuals outside of the business grind.

If you are going to work hard for your whole life, do something that makes you happy. But more importantly, don’t make that happiness only be tied to work.

Explore yourself and you’ll find that being a professional can also apply to yourself.

You can be a pro at being yourself.

~ Damocles.

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