“Professional” is a Funny Term

The term “professional” is one that I have always found to be very interesting.

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The definition of the term “professional” (noun) is: “a person engaged or qualified in a profession”. As an (adjective) it can mean “relating to or connected with a profession” or “engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime”.

As I am writing this I am not yet 40 yet I have been a paid “professional” in one form or another in working with computers and development for 20 years. So why are there times that I don’t I feel like I am a “professional”? I really need to explain what I mean here. Some weeks back I remember seeing an article that was talking about a study regarding self perception in younger people and how it was up to 30% more positive when they were living at home or had a close friend group. Now unfortunately — I did not do my usual bookmarking to read later on this article and now I can’t find it again. There is even a good chance that my recollection of the topic is off. However, what I remember dovetails nicely with the point of this post.

XKCD: Imposter Syndrome

In order to try and explain this concept, I started both trying to find that article and also trying to see if I could find more information on this concept. After doing a deep dive on research a promising lead emerged. Have you ever heard of Imposter Syndrome? After reading this fantastic article about it: Read this if you’ve ever felt like a fraud. I have 14 awesome tips to overcome it … While it is an amazing topic to research and probably worth a future blog post or two, this is not the concept I am targeting here. The reason I don’t feel that it is behind this thought train is that I don’t feel like a fraud. I am not doubting my own abilities or experiences. I guess there is some doubt here — I am doubting my ability to convey these abilities and experiences in a wise and thoughtful way — but I have confidence in where I am at and do feel like I deserve to be there.

Now before I go further, I am reasonably certain that this is already a thing and that I am just hitting my own mental block in finding the right words to describe it to a search engine to find relevant terms to describe it. Therefore, if you find yourself reading this and thinking that this guy is a dummy because he doesn’t know about the Purple Parrot Condition (or whatever terminology is used to describe this) please feel free to skip over the rest. Also as I am not able to find a real medical or psychological phenomenon term for it, I am going to make up my own.

So have you ever had an Amateur Stadium Complex? What?!? You don’t know what that is? Well gather around and let me explain. Have you ever watched Hoosiers? You should because it is an awesome movie. There is one scene in the movie where the high school basketball team from the small podunk town makes it all of the way to the Indiana State basketball finals in Indianapolis, IN, USA. I am pretty sure that there is a speech by Gene Hackman, who plays the Lombardi-like inspirational coach/leader in the movie, where he states that in taking his merry band of farmboys to the big city they will see things like buildings taller than 2 stories high. To highlight this effect, the movie highlights the absolute awe on the kids faces when they walk into the (then) 15,000 seat Hinkle Fieldhouse. Quick aside as I tend to get distracted on these topics, the movie Hoosiers is based on a real-life team from Milan, IN that went to, and won, the state tournament in 1954.

So now we have established that feeling. A bunch of small town kids (for this discussion, the amateurs) goes to a big town arena and is overawed by the size, the grandeur, the professional look and feel of the place. Have you ever tried to build a piece of furniture? How can someone who doesn’t have that many tools and little to no experience make something awesome when a true craftsman can come in and whip up something that wouldn’t look out of place in a spread in Architectural Digest? And here is the kicker, the real reason for this post. Have you ever been in a leadership role anywhere and just felt that the presentation or advice coming out of your mouth just isn’t professional? Or better yet — tried to make a blog about Engineering when your words and ideas seem like amateurish whiteboard jumbles instead of clear and coherent thoughts and ideas that are linked together with well thought out arguments and supporting information? Who gave me the right to talk intelligently about this stuff?

I have been there. I have felt that. Why would anyone want to read my rambling words about this stuff? But the kicker here is — we all have this power. We all can learn wisdom through experience. Everyone has a voice and can talk to people. This blog is me reaching out with my voice and making a presence for me outside of my own head. Am I making sense and dispensing wisdom? Do I come across like I have it all together? Maybe, maybe not. But do I already feel more confident in my writing abilities a dozen posts in? You bet. The real secret here, in my opinion, is that nobody ever really feels “professional”. You can build confidence in yourself and be strong when you get up in front of a large group — but I would be willing to bet quite a bit that even the best athletes in the biggest stadiums don’t see themselves as “professional”. They just go out and catch and throw the ball in the same way that they would on a playground, on an amateur field, or in a big professional stadium. Yeah some are arrogant, some are humble, but they put their pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us.

So how do you get over this? First, try not to care what others think. If you try to sound professional then what you are attempting to communicate has a strong chance of not coming across as authentic. Say what you feel are the right words at the time whether that is advice, or direction, or leadership in a group. Be yourself. If you do that and you know and believe what you are saying and you keep doing it then other people will start to see you as professional. You worked hard to build up your knowledge on this topic. Show that off and be confident about it! I started realizing it when I heard secondhand comments about conversations I have been a part of. I remember thinking, that guy sounds like he knows what he is talking about and then — oh yeah — that guy was me.

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Biggest and Best field of them all: My trip to Lambeau

I used the term stadium for my possibly made up phenomenon for a reason. Have you ever watched football on TV and felt that the field is absolutely huge? How about seeing it in person? Try this, and it works for any sport — find a local amateur stadium. High school, youth, whatever. Go stand on the edge of a field. Then go take a tour in a big professional stadium. Hopefully they will take you down to the edge of a field. If the dimensions of the field are different then pretend that they are the same (I like to think of american football here — that field is 100 yards long each and every time). While you are there on that field at that moment try and wrap your head around the fact that that professional field size is no different than the small amateur field that you started at back at home.

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Measuring scene from Hoosiers

Remember that Hoosiers movie I was talking about? Once the coach got the players to pick their jaws up off the floor he pulled a tape measure out of his pocket and had the team measure the distance from the free-throw line to the basket and the distance from the basket to the floor. He then asked the kids to measure a couple of distances on the court. Once they complete the measurements he responds with “I think you’ll find it’s the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory”. In that moment he showed them that the playing field is the same no matter what small amateur or grandiose professional building is surrounding it. They can be professionals on that field. The fields aren’t any different — but how people perceive them is. So pick your field, grow your knowledge in the field, and go be the best professional you can be.

Originally published at https://www.kevinwanke.com/ on September 28, 2019. Kevin’s blog focuses on advice for new Engineers and for Engineering Managers.

Written by

Engineer. Manager. Husband. Father. Wanna-be Writer. Editor-In-Chief & Grand Poobah of www.kevinwanke.com

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