Being a professional is not a vocation, but a set of attitudes

(“My Dear Students,” a biweekly column that’s a conversation with young minds about current events, books, popular culture, pretty much anything worth talking about over a cup of coffee.)

One pleasant summer evening in London, I went to a long, pleasant dinner with professors from my law school, at the end of which we discussed what it meant to be a professional. After all, we were teaching a professional course, but we had no consensus on what it meant for someone to become a professional. It can’t just be knowledge or skills. It couldn’t even be talent and skill. There must be something more, we thought. We talked and argued but did not agree. That night has always stayed with me, and over the years I’ve thought of it not as something that teachers can teach students, but as something that students should consider as they study. My thoughts are of course controversial and personal; my ideas of professionalism are based on factors I have struggled with and continue to struggle with. Maybe you have your own opinion on this topic and I’d love to hear from you.

I think being a professional means a certain set of attitudes. The basic element has to do with pride, pride in the work you are asked to do, be it big or small, exciting or tedious. You might think that this is an attitude that needs to be developed after college. But you may want to develop these attitudes now, because they will come in handy later. It doesn’t matter if you’re volunteering for an event, organizing a conference, or completing a project. Try to see how you can get the most out of what you are doing. Treat your task with respect, no matter how small or insignificant.

I remember a student from my tax law course at my university. She was very busy in court, an extracurricular activity that law schools and law students take very seriously. I don’t think tax law was one of his favorite subjects. Yet she was in my class day after day listening intently to me talking about income tax legislation. She wasn’t just going through the motions; she was interested in the class because the class was part of her course, and that was enough for her to take my class seriously.

A professional has an execution mindset. It usually takes a task to complete. It sounds simple, but it is the cause of many tasks that are left incomplete. Many are good at strategy and planning, but do not persevere to complete what they have started. The ability to see a task is a valuable skill. Most employers would give an arm and a leg to hire an employee who can complete the tasks assigned to them. You may start preparing your projects, lectures or papers, but unless you finish them on time, there is really no point in doing them. You may be attacked for small things; a professional is often responsible for doing the little things that can get tasks done. I remember a university professor who led a team of academics. It wasn’t their great strategy or their technical acumen that made a great team. It was the fact that he relentlessly hounded his team to submit his resume and assessment frameworks on time, followed by emails and phone calls to ensure that classes and class schedules ran like clockwork. . It’s often the last mile that makes or breaks an assignment.

The last attitude is to overcome the daily pressures of negative emotions so that you don’t get distracted on the way to completing your tasks. Young people feel all emotions, good or bad, more intensely than others. This is mostly a good thing, because emotional investment in one’s work is a sure recipe for success. But emotions can also be dull when frustrations, anger and outrage derail work. Don’t let small disagreements, small disagreements or some setbacks divert your attention from your regular tasks. Every time you feel frustrated by an insult or setback, remember that it won’t matter a month from now. No, seriously, it won’t. I wish I had known this when I was a kid, it would have saved me a lot of trouble.

I started by talking about professionals but I didn’t just mean lawyers, doctors, engineers and accountants with that term. A professional is not a vocation, but a set of attitudes. Anyone who does any kind of work can be a professional. Once the word gets out that you’re a professional, you become this enriched being: a person that others find trustworthy. There is no better addition to your resume.

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