LPTrendsCareer: Going Pro. A really relevant and unique riff on the emerging, clarified definition of what it means to be professional. By Jackie Dotson, LCSW. Therapist. Writer. Disruptive Presence. You go girl.
In recent months, a lot has been written about the concept of “going professional,” and it’s about time. This past decade has not only shown us the importance of taking ownership of your life and career, it has also shown us an exponentially increasing amount of noise from the media, both old media and the new “social” media. It is increasingly harder to filter out the fluff from the good stuff.
Although we have always been in charge of our own lives and careers, in the past, we had more structures in place to make us feel as if we were not in charge but merely following directions. Most workers stayed with the same company for their entire careers, where daily tasks, habits and job descriptions were driven by the needs of management. It was easy to not feel the need to take responsibility for yourself when you knew you would be taken care of by one employer for your entire working life.
Today, lives and careers are more fluid. Most people change jobs every few years either by choice or by layoff. The number of people going into business for themselves is also increasing, by both choice and default. The transient nature of today’s work has necessitated that workers take a more active role in branding themselves and crafting the trajectory of their careers.
Whether we work for ourselves or someone else, we are all called upon to be more creative in our work. This is why the concept of “going professional” is essential to making it the world. Going professional seems grand and complex, but is really just a change in your mindset, maturing from being an amateur. Author Steven Pressfield, who writes extensively about turning pro in his books The War of Art and Turning Pro, says it is “nothing grander than growing up.”
Our culture encourages and reinforces being an amateur and engaging in amateur-like behavior. Pressfield notes in his books that the “addiction of distraction” is one of the top behaviors of the amateur. Distraction really is the enemy of the professional. Making a lot of noise has come to be seen as the same thing as doing the work. But professionals know that making noise is just that, making noise. Texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, Pinning are all terrific tools that are used more to generate busy-ness and distraction, than they are to actually move work forward.
American culture rewards looking busy. Those who spend the most hours doing a project are seen as dedicated heroes, regardless of outcome. Two of our most prestigious professions, law and medicine, reward their practitioners, not for the quality of their work or the value it adds, but for the quantity of “billable hours” and “billable procedures” they generate.
Rewarding a culture for looking busy and making a lot of noise creates other problems as well. Noisy behavior becomes glorified and monetized. We create and perpetuate stereotypes of the “starving artist” who struggles from paycheck to paycheck. Yet we do not stop to examine how much effort this person is putting into making the art versus making a show out of making nothing. We give our limited attention to celebrities on television and in magazines, who are no longer making art, and just making drama and headlines.
But work does get done, somewhere, somehow by some people. With all of this noise, how is the work getting done?
Let’s look at the late Charles Schulz, cartoonist and creator of the Peanuts comic strip. He knew a thing or two about going professional. Schulz produced nearly 18,000 comic strips in his 50-year career that ended with his death in 2000. He stated in interviews that every day he had a donut and then sat down to write the strip, adding that once he had the idea, it took about an hour to draw the daily and three hours to draw the Sunday strip.
Charles Schulz was a quiet and unassuming man. He knew instinctively that it is hard to be a true professional when you are making a lot of noise. He showed up every day and did what he wanted and needed to do to make a successful comic strip.
Steven Pressfield notes in his books that this is an absolute requirement for anyone thinking of turning professional. He says, professionals are humble, quiet about what they do, show up every day, committed to the long haul, they know how to turn off the distractions. Pros show up prepared and ready to work and they do not put other people on pedestals.
Now more than ever it is imperative for us to make a commitment to our art and making the world better. We cannot elevate the level of conversation and create great work without making the commitment to turning professional. Where in your life are you continuing to act like an amateur? What do you need to do to turn pro? Everyone has what it takes to turn professional, so long as you are willing to grow up and do it.
Jackie Dotson is a regular contributor to LP Magazine. If you liked this, you might also like: