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.

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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.