Professionalism: You Know It When You See It

Being a professional makes you stand out and gets you noticed

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Doing one’s best is an inherent goal owned by everybody I know.

I cannot think of a task, job or career where, from the get-go, you set out to purposefully do less than your best. But sometimes when a job is done, I find myself saying, “I could have done better.” This is especially true of some of the trim I have painted - along with the adjoining wall or window glass. Task-appropriate skills are, it seems, as important as the desire to succeed.

On most days, many in our industry work with unpleasant materials in unpleasant and often dangerous situations. This unpleasantness and danger do not, however, prevent professionalism; they demand it.

I often encounter onsite system installers and pumpers who want to be the best at what they do. They strive to deliver the least disturbed and best-restored job site or a thoroughly cleaned and inspected treatment tank. Each has their own system to measure their success.

“Professional” is the word most often used to describe those people who stand out in a field of mediocrity. In the line of vacuum trucks at the septage dump station, their vehicle sparkles. In their shop or on a job site, their employees’ outfits are not only clean but also uniform. The dirt and mud on their excavating equipment is washed off almost before it dries, and always before it moves to the next job site.

I am often asked about small-business owners’ and their employees’ professionalism. “How do they get this way? I mean this fellow is so young – how did he get to be so professional?” Professionalism is recognizable. 

Where does it come from?

Professionalism does not come from a pharmacy or any retailer. Professionalism can be learned, but you cannot register for a course called “Professionalism 101.”

It appears that professionalism is an attribute without specific origin. It is an attitude and a way of looking at one’s life work. It emerges from within and it often attracts people who recognize it because they like to be around it. It appears spontaneously and surrounds the individual like an aura.

Professionalism, like a higher elevation, requires effort to attain. The greater the elevation, that is, the farther from the norm, the more work it takes to get there. Once at that vantage point, there is no desire to return – to lower one’s self or one’s standards.

Professionalism is an action verb! Yes, I know it is not a verb, yet it certainly acts like one. Professionalism divides the outstanding from the common, ordinary and everyday.

Yes, skill, preparedness and motivation can also separate you from the crowd. They may describe a craftsman and they are some of the attributes of professionalism, but they alone do not achieve that final divide.

When there are more professionals in our industry than not, it is those outliers, the unprofessional, that will stand out and draw attention to themselves. And in response people will say, “How did they get that way – so unprofessional?” 


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