Don’t be an amateur: be a true professional (3)

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3. ACCEPTANCE. Last week, I spoke about OPENNESS as one of the traits you need to foster to be a true professional. Very closely related to OPENNESS is ACCEPTANCE. You might say that there’s no difference at all between the two, but one can be open to many things and even be willing to try them, but not necessarily accept them.

A true professional knows how to accept things. One of the most important things that the true professionals knows is to ACCEPT CHANGE. Nothing stays the same. No job, no career, no business, no person, so society stays the same. Everything changes. The person who does not accept those changes becomes unwielding and stagnant. Professionals need to move with the times and change with the times. Otherwise, they eventually become obsolete.

Change is not the only thing that a true professional needs to accept. A true professional needs to know how to ACCEPT CRITICISM. Not everyone will be happy with what you say or do and you will always have some detractors. The point is, you should learn to listen to it all, pick out what valid criticism and use that as a clue to what you should improve. You need to stop making excuses for every criticism you get. Whenever you make an excuse, you are trying to cover up your shortcomings or trying too hard to prove something or denying that something might be wrong or unsatisfactory with what you did. The proof of a job well done is always in the final result. Always look at criticism as help. Others will see things that you might have missed, simply because you were too close to the job or too attached to it.

A true professional will also know how to ACCEPT PRAISE. There is really only one way to do it and that is to accept it graciously. A simple thank you is just right. If you say “It was nothing” or “It really isn’t that good” or “I don’t really deserve it,” you are downgrading your abilities. If you gush, you convey the message that you aren’t used to doing things well and this was probably a fluke. If you start pushing your other accomplishments, you sound like you are boasting. If you worked with others on the job or project, you should also acknowledge them with a simple “I couldn’t have done it without the help of…” If you don’t, you are taking undue credit that should be going to others as well. Finally, you should never let the praise get to your head. It’s nice to know that people like what you have done, and that’s enough. You don’t need to remind them. And you should never think that just because you were praised a few times that you are better than anyone else. Always remember that there is always room to improve, room to grow. The moment you sit on your laurels and feel that you don’t need to do anything else because you are perfect or the best is the moment that you start failing.

Last, but not the least, a true professional should know how to ACCEPT FAILURE. Everyone experiences failure, some more often than others. Those who seem to always succeed do so because they have learned to accept faults and failure and learn to work with them and around them. They don’t retreat from whatever they are doing just because they have failed. They examine their failure or faults and work on them so that they aren’t repeated. They accept that failure is part of learning and embrace that learning as the best way to learn how not to fail again.

Acceptance isn’t always easy to do, especially when it goes against what we are used to and what makes us feel secure. Most people don’t seem to realize it, but it’s really one of the biggest factors in differentiating an amateur from a true professional.

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Don’t be an amateur: be a true professional (2)

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Last week, I discussed how QUALITY is an important factor in becoming a professional. That is definitely not the only thing that distinguishes amateurs from professionals. The second important factor that you want to cultivate to develop your professionalism is OPENNESS.

2. Openness. True professionals keep a wide open mind. “To what?” you might ask. First and foremost, you must be open to new ideas. While you might already have a great idea to work on, it doesn’t mean that you should shut out  other ideas that might come your way. Whatever you are doing, whatever your service, business, or product, you need to keep it dynamic and developing. That means you need to continuously find ways to keep improving your output. Even if it might mean changing the way you do things, you need to welcome that change because it is what will keep you well informed and up-to-date. When computers and Internet technology were first introduced, many small business owners thought they could continue running their businesses the old fashioned way–by hand with traditional means of advertising, marketing, and communication. It didn’t take long for people to realize that computers would be essential to keeping up with the competition and those who began converting sooner had an edge over those who were slow or reluctant to transform. Today, it is almost unheard of for a business not to have an Internet presence or use computers for operations and keeping records. If you think you are the only one who has any good ideas, then you are shutting yourself down and setting yourself up for failure.

Another thing you must be open to is criticism. Listening to criticism is absolutely essential because any criticism means people are paying attention. That criticism will also give you a good idea of how well or how poorly you are doing. To completely shut off criticism is another sign of an amateur. Amateurs don’t want to hear criticism because they are either too insecure to accept the fact that they are not good enough, or because they think they are superior to everyone else and already perfect. Probably the worst divas in any profession are the divas who think they are so good they don’t need to improve and refuse to admit they have any shortcomings.  Professionals, on the other hand, know that they are not perfect and look forward to criticism because it helps them improve. Professionals also know when to take criticism seriously and when to dismiss it as pointless or petty. Not a lot of criticism is constructive, so anyone who wants to achieve true professionalism should look for that constructive criticism that tells what they did well and what they didn’t do well.

The third thing that true professionals need to be open to is growth. Amateurs don’t grow. They either stay where they are and stagnate or deteriorate. True professionals are always open to growth. Growth means improvement, development. Growth takes place not only in the physical, emotional, and intellectual dimensions of  individuals but in their skills and talents as well. Growth also takes place in a business–in the maturity of the product or service, in the scope of the business, and in its market. And while professionals are open to growth, they do not embrace it willy nilly. The true professional will know to handle growth in such a way that no other aspect of their output will be jeopardized or sacrificed. The amateur, on the other hand, might grow but take on too much too soon without having set up a strong foundation. The professional knows when to say no. The amateur does not know when to stop. It’s basically the difference between a gourmand and a gourmet.

Don’t be an amateur: be a true professional (1)

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I am a reviewer–a critic, if you will, and I do it because I enjoy many things that there could be so much to write about. What things? Performances, movies, eating out, and reading books.

In the many years that I have also been a mentor and teacher, one of the things I have tried to instill in my students is a sense of professionalism, because that is a very important lesson that, sadly, too many people never learn.

You might say: “I’m definitely a professional because it’s my whole career, I studied about it for several years, I’ve been doing it for several years, and I get paid a lot for it.” Believe me, you don’t need to earn money doing something to be a professional. In fact, many people who earn money (lots of it, at that) doing something are more amateur than they know or would care to admit.

So what are the things that distinguish professionals from amateurs? This new series of articles will distinguish professionals from amateurs according to several qualities–criteria, if you will.

1. Quality. A true professional will always do their utmost best at whatever job is given to them, no matter what the situation. Whether it is a paid performance or a free performance, the true professional will plan carefully, prepare as much as is possible within the given time, and deliver a performance worthy of top awards. Amateurs, on the other hand, are those who do just enough so that whatever they delivery is just good enough, just passable. They usually don’t put their whole heart and soul into what they are doing and hardly break a sweat when they do things.  They don’t go out of their way to plan extensively, study to improve their technique or style, yet expect accolades for their performance or delivery.

This is what I have always told my students when they do something: Always do your best. Do the best you can all the time, regardless of the situation.

If you don’t you are short-selling not only your clients, your customers, your audience, your readers–you are short-selling yourself because you will never learn what it is like to be the best you can be. More than cheating others of the excellent product or performance that they deserve, you are cheating yourself because you are not maximizing your potential. Anyone who does not always do their best consistently is not worthy to be called a professional. Those people are just amateurs, their product always just okay. No big awards for them here, no stars.