Professionalism Is Undefinable… But Priceless!

Darth Vader would find some people’s lack of professionalism disturbing. And I do too. But sometimes I wonder if it is just me judging others by my own standards. If I give my 100% on any project that I get involved in, paid or unpaid, why is it that sometimes others give me their 50%? Is it out of unprofessionalism or is it that what I consider their 50% is actually their 100%? Could it be that there is not a proper definition of what being professional is? Or like Groucho Marx, could it be that people have different standards depending on who they work with?

In my quest for understanding what professionalism is, I decided to look for a definition of the term and to my surprise it is all very subjective:

  • The Merriam-Webster: “The skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.”
  • Oxford Dictionary: “The competence or skill expected of a professional.”
  • Cambridge Dictionary: “The combination of all the qualities that are connected with trained and skilled people.”

And if we dig a little bit deeper, it does not get any better. The three dictionaries define a professional as:

  • The Merriam-Webster: “Relating to a job that requires special education, training, or skill.”
  • Oxford Dictionary: “Worthy of or appropriate to a professional person; competent, skilful, or assured.”
  • Cambridge Dictionary: “having the qualities that you connect with trained and skilled people, such as effectiveness, skill, organisation, and seriousness of manner”

If the dictionaries cannot give me a unified definition of the concept, how can I expect other persons with different backgrounds than mine to have the same professional standards that I have? Can I rely on common sense when we all know that such thing does not actually exist? Some organisations opt to write their own Codes of Professionalism for their members to know what is expected of them. And in some industries, people who work in a profession have a common code to abide by as well. But for the rest of us, specially those who work freelance and worldwide, such types of code do not exist.

Thus, out of a lack for a standard definition of what being professional means, I decided to write my own based on what I expect from myself. For me, being professional means:

  • Being committed: if you say that you are going to do something, you do it, and you do it all the way through the end.
  • Being punctual: if you say that you are coming at 8, come at 8. Not at 8:15 or 8:30, but 8.
  • Being reliable: if you do a job well one time, you should do it the same way all the time.
  • Being responsible: you should always be accountable for your actions.
  • Being respectful: value others and their time.
  • Being honest: telling the truth can get you second chances. Being caught in a lie will harm your reputation.

These are the minimum traits that I feel a professional person must have. For me, having professionalism has nothing to do with being friendly, or hard-working, or even the most skilled at what you do. Not everyone likes an outgoing personality and not always being the best in your industry guarantees that you will land the jobs. But I believe that having at least these traits will make you have a good reputation in your field.

Feel free to share your own definition of professionalism below.

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