Many parents want to see their kids grow up to be doctors, engineers or accountants, because of the prestige that comes from being known as a professional. When you see the diploma and the certification on the wall you know that the person you’re relying on has met certain minimum standards set by a responsible organization, so you give them the benefit of the doubt for respect and trust.
So where does that leave the rest of us, the ordinary entrepreneurs, salespeople, managers, small business owners and such? Because we don’t have that built-in shortcut to trust, we may have to work a bit harder at it, but there is no reason that we can’t earn the same level of respect as the folks who have the certificates on their walls.
Professionalism is a way of acting. As I’ve written before, professional is as professional does. It’s also an identity, or an approach to life and to interactions with others that speaks loudly about who we are.
You don’t need a professional certifying body to be professional, but you do have to meet some rigorous standards:
Accountability for client outcomes. When my son was an infant, he had a seizure from a high fever that sent him to the hospital. Both his pediatricians showed up at the hospital—wearing tuxes, because they were at a wedding for the daughter of one of them. Yes, it was above and beyond the call of duty, but I still remember it 26 years later. Professionals always put the client first.
Fiduciary responsibility. Honesty and integrity are a given, so I won’t harp on them here. But if you want to be a professional, you have a fiduciary responsibility to your clients to act in their best interests, to never violate a trust, and to maintain absolute confidentiality.
Continuous learning and professional study. Professions never stand still, and clients would much rather work with someone who has ten years’ experience than one who has one year’s experience ten times. As a personal professional, you don’t have someone telling you what to learn; you have to take charge of your own education.
Affiliations. You may not have annual tax-deductible meetings in Hawaii, but you do have a choice of whom you choose to associate yourself with and the company you keep. When professionally-minded individuals get together the standards above become socially self-enforcing.
Pride in your work. I worked construction while in college, and once asked a master carpenter why he took so much care with some joints that no one would ever see. He told me that he would know. That kind of pride drives personal professionals to do their best work regardless of who is watching.
It may be too late for you to go to medical school, but if you want the respect that comes from being a professional, the path is wide open to you—every single day.