Professionalism

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Work.

Simple and obvious, right?

Well, no, not really.

Work is called work for a reason.

Work is stuff you do even when you don’t want to do it because it’s the right thing to do.

The right thing could be the legal thing, the moral thing, or a thing you’ve resolved to do because you know that in the long run it’ll be good for you.

Understanding the last example is what will help you most now.

What’s good for you often isn’t easy. You know that.

It’s why so many of us fail to go back to the gym in March after we did so well in January.

So what can you do to better ensure success? You show up regardless – unrelentingly.

Let’s stick with the gym example.

If you’re feeling tired after a long day of work, but you know that you should go to the gym, walk at an incline on the treadmill.

Just be there. Your subconscious will start to figure out that, notwithstanding your feelings, you’re going, so it’ll start to prepare for it.

The same goes for writing, playing music, painting, cooking – anything.  Sit down, show up, every day, and like magic, you’ll start trying to do stuff that doesn’t suck.

BIG EXCEPTION: You’re not going to be good at everything. Chances are that, in fact, you’re going to suck at a lot of stuff. It’s no big deal. (I quit guitar because I just do not have the talent. And I’m a terrible singer.) Keep going. Experiment until you find stuff you’re decent at and enjoy. Give it, say, two years. If you’ve given it your best shot for that long, you’re probably not getting much better and maybe should move on.

For more guidance on this, check out Seth Godin’s The Dip. Some of this perspective was also taken from Stephen King’s On Writing and Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art. 


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Don’t believe anyone that tells you that there are “two types of X.”

That said, there are two options for how you can conduct your professional life: specializer or generalizer.

The specializer is your typical pro. These folks were involved in seven student organizations as an undergrad and majored in three areas. After they graduate they join multiple professional associations and get involved with committees, engage with their colleagues on LinkedIn and Twitter, and blend their work and personal lives.

On the other hand, the generalizers recognize the value of a liberal education. When they aren’t working, these people are playing the guitar, reading Tolstoy, and learning about color theory.

I’ve been the former. While it can make you highly proficient and acclimated to a field’s culture, in essence, the specializer is just another participant in the rat race. The greater value in the latter is that diverse knowledge lends unique perspective and can make your mind fertile for innovation.

In the short-term, you’re more likely to get noticed as a specializer. Your involvement will earn rewards. Good for you. In the long-term, you’re more likely to live a fulfilling life as a generalizer. You’ll get to experience the fullness of life and become a more well-rounded person.

Follow your interests, not the crowd’s.

Surrounding yourself with people who talk about their imperfections and vulnerabilities will help you live a better life in the long term because it will give you a greater grounding in humility and improve your ability to empathize.

These are the folks in the arena, fighting the good fight.

The alternative is to seek people who seem like they’ve got it together.

These are often the people at networking events who seem super businessy – the hotshots.

They’re seeking to impress and compete, not connect and build.

They’re thinking from a place of scarcity, not abundance.

 

 

The last minute: that’s when most of us get our work done.

We put it off until we know we can’t put it off any further, then we rush to get it done and come in clutch.

But the pro does it differently.

The pro does the hard work up front and refines the work later.

Stop waiting. Start working. It’ll make a difference.

H/T Seth Godin.

 

One of my main heroes is Seth Godin.

Seth says that authentic is overrated. I disagree.

He says that to be authentic is to cop out of necessary emotional labor, to be selfish instead of being of service.

I think that you can be authentic and still practice emotional labor.

Music, poetry, and fiction all demonstrate this idea.

Sometimes the usefulness of art isn’t the actionability; it’s the connection.

So it is for authenticity.

Showing up and being a human being saying, “Yeah, I’m terrified, and it’s hard, and it all just sucks right now, but we’re going to do this anyway” – that makes the world better.

The first time I published this it was deleted for some reason. 

I’m writing this sitting in a hotel room while I wait to present at a conference with a group of my colleagues.

We have our suits on, our hair is styled, and our presentations are loaded onto flash drives.

So we look the part of a pro, but do we play it?

Two of my main heroes Brian Koppelman (the creator of Showtime’s Billions) and Seth Godin (hall of fame marketer) just dropped a new interview on Brian’s podcast The Moment.

Seth brings up Steven Pressfield and Robert McKee’s definitions of the amateur, professional, and hack.

They can be summed up as follows:

  • An amateur makes art they feel like making, doing what they love when they want;
  • A professional will show up when they don’t feel like, doing the hard work of emotional labor because they seek to connect and build trust; and
  • A hack is a professional who sells out for short-term gains.

It’s like David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors says in Keep Your Name: “What I want from art is truth, what you want is fame.”

To answer my question, I think I play it, but I can play it better.

We can always play it better.

That’s why professionals usually have to do continuing education credits with their professional associations.

That’s why we continue to attend professional development workshops, not professional maintenance workshops.

I’ve been tired, so I haven’t shown up in my full capacity; I haven’t done yoga, submitted drafts right 100% perfectly, submitted blog posts on time, or read books like I should.

In time the resolve will come. In time I will be disciplined like Triple H.

But these things take time. A lot of it.

And that’s okay.

It’s a part of the process.

It’s part of the delicate balance of life.

My main mentor, a director of professional public administration program, said to me yesterday, “The main advice I can give to you is to not worry so much. No one has the answers.” He was conveying that it’s okay to not be perfect. The perfection is the imperfection, and the doors of opportunity mostly go unplanned.

The first thing on the whiteboard above my desk is my most crucial personal declarative: Be gentle with yourself.

It’s a journey. A messy, messy, confusing, sad, amazing, boring, powerful journey.

Keep at it, my friends. And have a great day.

Please accept my apologies for not getting the daily blog out lately. I have just returned from an intense conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I am back now, though! So back to it. In the future, if I’m about to head out for a conference, I’ll give a heads up. I had no idea my networking activity would be so demanding.

A consistent theme I saw while networking was competition. The entire time I was there I witnessed it – competition between schools for ranking, between journals for prestige, between students for job placement, and between colleagues for publication. (I’m preparing to go into academics.) The takeaway: I’m about to set forth into an incredibly competitive climate.  But I have a secret weapon; that is, the awareness between the difference between hierarchy and territory.

In Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art it’s said that “In the animal kingdom, individuals define themselves in one of two ways – by their rank within a hierarchy (a hen in a pecking order, a wolf in a pack) or by their connection to a territory (a home base, a hunting ground, a turf).”

To sum up Pressfield’s argument, most of us define ourselves hierarchically, and it’s likely that we don’t even know it. This is because school, advertising, all of the materialist culture tells us that we need to define ourselves by others’ opinions.

He says that this definition of our identity, which you will notice breaks down in places with a ton of people like Manhattan, is detrimental to our creativity. You will witness the development of the following characteristics:

  1. You become caught in a vicious cycle of trying to elevate your position in the hierarchy and defending against those beneath you.
  2. You come to define your happiness by your rank in the hierarchy, feeling satisfied at another’s defeat.
  3. You treat people differently based on their rank rather than other, more important, factors.
  4. You act, dress, speak, and think for others.

So we must live territorially.

What’s a territory?

  1. It’s the place that gives us sustenance, the core element of our soul’s nourishment.
  2. We love our territory alone. We don’t need anyone else to claim it. The work itself satisfies.
  3. It is something that takes work to be claimed. It doesn’t give, it gives back.

I’m going to leave his line of reasoning here. There’s more to it, but for the rest, I suggest you read the book.

In close, don’t get caught up in the competition. Just do the work you’re passionate about. Try not to think about the competition. Just have fun. Don’t care how praised someone is or where they stand in whatever fabricated pecking order exists. Just search for two things. First, who has interests that overlap with you? And second, are they a good person?