The inside and outside secrets to becoming a professional.

Maintaining humility in the age of DIY.

Islands.

Big box home-improvement stores have gone a long way to making us believe that we’re do-it-yourselfers. Likewise, content management systems and social media gateways have made many of us content publishers. There are no serious issues involved with doing some home maintenance ourselves. And there’s no shame in extending the tools of communication to more people, removing the technical barriers to participation. In fact, we’re in a golden age of communications. The rate of change imposed on culture and commerce resulting from access to communications tools (both for creating and consuming information) is challenging the 19th century’s industrial revolution for the top spot in terms of impacting daily life and creating economic change.


With access to tools of many kinds, it’s easy to arrive at the belief that we’re islands who don’t require the help of others.

To some extent that’s true. Many of us can more easily make simple plumbing repairs around our houses. The very thoughts in this essay are published with a content management tool built for ease of use. More of us can do our own content publishing, giving back precious time to the programmers to go on about doing what only they can do well. We’re quickly learning some new skills and realizing new influence at our fingertips. To believe, however, that the early knowledge we gain is the full potential of the tools is short sighted.


Revolutionary understanding.

Our access to new communications tools is a revolution to be sure. The revolution, however, was not brought about by rejecting the ideas of the past. Quite the contrary. The ideas that differentiated themselves, and that brought about our current all-access reality, were brought about by those persons who have a great understanding of the conventions and tools of the past. While many participants in a revolution have the disruptive fire of rejection in their eyes, the leaders of a revolution also possess an understanding of former habits, conventions and practices. To simply be a participant in a revolution is to be a hack (a verb that became a noun in the 20th century). “Hack” is defined by Merriam Webster as “to cut or sever with repeated irregular or unskillful blows.” Revolutions are brought about by professionals, not hacks.


Becoming a professional. Inside and outside secrets.

The term professional is generally used to describe someone who has achieved a certain level of knowledge about the standards in a field of study. And many professionals strive for differentiation — to achieve a knowledge that is different, or at a higher level, than others in a profession. Marketers preach about differentiation frequently (rightly so). Differentiation, though, should not be seen as the rejection of others’ thoughts, automatically requiring a departure from the norm. Rather, the secret to differentiation is often not a departure, but an embrace of the environment right in front of us.

The inside secret to professional differentiation.

The development path is right in front of the would-be professional. That is, a person can’t become a professional in a given field without a respect for the others in that field of study. To become a pro, a level of respect is required that will lead to an acceptance and a true understanding of others’ concepts and theories. One should get closer to the current and former theories before departing from them. By learning accepted concepts, one can add nuances, dive deeper into details and/or implement new efficiencies. Even those new ideas which ultimately lead to a revolution in a profession rise from an understanding of the underpinnings of current and former concepts. Changing, overturning or rejecting an idea does not always constitute a disrespect for the idea that the word “rejection” suggests. Rather, a new understanding of a concept is brought about by continued understanding and revisitation to a given set of ideas in changing environments. Being a professional, even a differentiated professional who brings new ideas, requires as thorough as possible an understanding of the ideas and concepts of others within a given field of study.


The inside secret to becoming a professional, then:

Respect the thoughts of others within a given field of study.

The outside secret to becoming a respectful professional.

There is another secret to becoming a professional. That is, the very definition of being a professional begs the person to understand that there are others out there in OTHER fields of study who are professionals, too.

There is a period of time in the development of the professional during which a personality can take an unfortunate turn. A “Professional-in-training”, as we will refer to the phenomenon here, can give the term professional a bad reputation. It is possible for the professional-in-training to believe that the knowledge he or she is gaining in a chosen field indicates a possession of an understanding that crosses all fields. Taken further, a professional-in-training can even begin to believe that there aren’t other important fields of study out there beyond his or her own.

For a professional to become truly realized, a humbling comprehension must be achieved. That is, one must comprehend that there are many other professionals operating in many other fields of study. The recognition that other professions exist must rise to a level of respect for those other professions. A true professional realizes that he or she is specialized and nuanced themselves. And they understand that there are others out there who are specialized and nuanced in their respective fields, whose understanding about other topics far exceeds what he or she might even imagine. By respecting other professionals in other fields, one is humbled, and only then becomes a true professional.


The outside secret to being a professional, then:

Respect the thoughts of others in other fields of study; realize that there are understandings which go deeper than can be imagined by those outside a given field or profession.

Professional humility. More than an affected politeness.

Referring again to Merriam Webster, we see that the definition of being a professional includes “exhibiting a courteous, conscientious...manner.” Professional behavior, however, is not simply an affected politeness. It is a genuine behavioral characteristic that comes from the humility of knowing what it means to be a professional, inside and out: respecting the thoughts of others in a given field of study, and realizing that there are several fields of study, each with nuanced and specialized understandings that are not visible to those outside the field.


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