Reclaiming What it Means to Be “Professional”

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant*Reprise: I’m winding down to one new post per week between now and Baby Integrated’s arrival in March 2017. Enjoy this repost!*

I recently held a webinar with a new software system that I wasn’t totally comfortable with. It was time to start the webinar, and I could see that people were signed in, so I went ahead and switched it to “live” and started talking. I knew the chat function wasn’t working, but I didn’t know how to fix it, and while normally I like to get confirmation that people can see and hear me, I decided to just move ahead since we were recording.

So, I’m talking, sharing my slides, doing my thing…for about twenty minutes. Twenty minutes, so like, almost half of the time I’ve set aside for this thing.

After this chunk of time, I check back into the editor window, and someone was able to submit a message to let me know that no one could see or hear me. I had been talking to myself and presenting my audience with a black screen for almost half an hour.

Panic.

I’m pretty sure I dropped some f-bombs…I was sweating…I couldn’t believe this was happening. Finally, I got it working again, and almost everyone who had signed in originally was still there with me, despite it being a total mess.

Once we were back on, I didn’t even pretend to stay “polished.” I don’t usually have such major technical issues, and this one just threw me flat on my ass. I apologized profusely and, interestingly, I felt this amazing wave of relief – I didn’t have to pretend to have it all together for these people, because clearly, they already knew I didn’t.

They were so gracious, and afterward, I was reflecting on how freeing that felt – despite the whole thing being kind of a disaster.

What does it mean to be “professional”?

In my case, I thought it meant making the technology work seamlessly, appearing put together but friendly, and maintaining an air of distanced expertise.

Instead, I probably came across a little bit frazzled, rushed, and 100% human. And that felt really good.

To me, being “professional” simply means having integrity. Integrity looks different for each person, but it’s essentially an alignment between your inner and outer selves. The formal definition of integrity is all about morals and virtue and whatnot, but that feels too cloudy to me.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI think my definition of integrity is simpler: does your outer persona reflect who you really are inside?

Even if that inner and outer matching means that you swear a lot, cry easily, express anger, need rest, take time to process, or make crass jokes, if that’s what it means to be in integrity for you, then I think that counts as being “professional.”

I’m on LinkedIn a lot (p.s., let’s connect)and lately I’ve been seeing comments from people who seem to have taken on the role of “LinkedIn Professionalism Monitor.” They’ll comment on more personal-ish posts that people share and say stuff like “Please leave this kind of post for Facebook” or “This is unprofessional clutter – doesn’t belong here” as if it’s up to them to determine what’s professional enough to post on there.

You know what happens when we enforce silly rules about what it means to be professional and shame others who don’t fit into that mold? We all end up looking/acting/talking/behaving in the same way, which is exceptionally boring and dangerously intolerant.

I would much rather encounter people who are genuine, honest, and authentic across their lives than work with people who are trying to fit into – and force others to fit into – some stuffy, bullshit way of being at work.

And what about you, dear one?

Are you essentially the same person at work, home, and in-between? Are you feeling pressure to act a certain way or fit into a suit that doesn’t work for you?

If so, what can you slough off that isn’t yours? What’s not you? Get rid of it.

Add in the messiness, the color, the complexity that’s missing. You’ll feel better, and you’ll give others the permission to reclaim “professional” for themselves, too.


Feel like debriefing this or discussing other creative ways to be more you at work? Join our Facebook group, A Wild New Work!

 

2 thoughts on “Reclaiming What it Means to Be “Professional”

  1. I really relate to this post! A benefit I’ve had in my career is that I’ve worked for companies who allow me to me authentically myself. But the challenges with that are 1) that I’m not sure how/if I would function in a more traditional environment, and 2) that when something does happen where my supervisors are asking me to communicate something in a certain way, that is difficult for me because I just want to be honest and genuine and not use corporate-speak.

    And I think people are responding more and more positively when they see someone else react in a human way to situations like what you describe. Love this post.

    Like

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Emily! I’m glad you can relate 🙂 I hope you can continue to either work for orgs that make space for the authentic you or find creative ways to stick to what’s true for you even in traditional corporate settings!

      Like

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