So I was in Lowe’s buying some charcoal for my smoker today when I walked past a stand of tools with a sign labeled, “Professional Grade.” I noted, with a bit of cynicism, that the professional grade tools looked exactly like the other tools except these were labeled with yellow colors, indicating a contractor worksite or something. The other tools just had the normal, Lowe’s blue color with slightly lower prices. I decided to stand there for a minute and determine the effectiveness of this advertisement. Sure enough, it was hard for the average weekend warrior to resist, they would walk past and see the “Professional Grade” tools on display and like a black hole drawing in light, they would swing in almost an arc like fashion toward the table where they would begin to inspect what a professional uses in their trade. I could almost see the mental images being created. If my garage had a peg board with these on display, then just think of the projects that I could get done! Instead of rolling in here at 10am and buying a replacement toilet flange and a bag of Peanut M&Ms, I would be coming in here with a flat card full of lumber and stone, ready to make that nice hillside Gazebo and garden that I see on magazine covers. Yes, if I had the tools of a Professional, then I would be the Professional.
Now as ridiculous as this seems, that suddenly hit me as a interesting concept. What does it mean to be a professional? Is there some truth in the fact that if you act like a professional, you just might, become a professional? Clearly, in some professions, this is pretty well defined. My wife just went through law school and that is about as prescriptive as it can get. The process basically forces you down the path of behaving and thinking like a professional in the field so that you can pass a grueling examination and get accepted by a board of acting professionals. Even then, once you are done with the process, it is not like some magic genie comes down from heaven and grants you the career of your dream, you just quite simply become a licensed professional with nothing to do.
So even in the most regimented career paths, lawyer, doctor, dentist, police officer, etc, there is a certain degree of acting before you can become. You must take on and exhibit the characteristics of a professional before someone will treat you like one, including yourself. At what point do you actually start viewing yourself as a professional rather than a fraudulent weekend warrior staring at a table of overpriced toys? This got me thinking today, where are the areas in my life that I could consider pondering this concept, of becoming professional grade so that I would be treated as a professional both by my ownself as well as others?
Not that this is my immediate ambition, but I will pick on it because it is easy. People in the business world always aspire to be in that coveted role of the Chief Executive, usually for a large corporation. Dreams of Jeff Bezos come to mind. The daring executive that drives a company to greatness out of the sheer brilliance of simple ideas. However, this makes me consider an interesting question. Of those that are desirous to be this level of chief executive, how many of them ACT like that executive? I mean think about it carefully. Bezos was a child from a immigrants, his parents got divorced when he was young. He was raised by his adopted father and even worked at McDonalds in high school. His Dad was moderately successful, but not in any major way. Sounds like pretty much the rest of us right? Well, from a very young age he started acting like a CEO. He did great in school, was the leader of most organizations he belonged to. He had dreams of colonizing space (I think he still does). He had big dreams, a vision of the future. However, he acted like an executive. The number of times he has risked it all to make Amazon get to the next level is staggering. Most of us would never consider the level of risk that he has taken to get where he is at today. He borrowed 300K from his family to start this insane idea that he could beat Barnes and Noble at selling books on the Internet. He took the entire 54M raised from his IPO to go and buy up a bunch of smaller companies. That was a huge risk and the company really stuggled because of it. Then again he borrowed over 2 Billion from banks to fund AWS. When they launched AWS (what you call the “cloud” today), the company had only about 350M in cash on hand. Many times he has sold his own stock to fund the business, or acquire companies. Yeah, people aspire to be a CEO of a large company like Bezos, but are they willing to ACT like that CEO? Nope.
That is an extreme example, but look at your own life. What do you aspire to be? A great sales person? A good father? A director? A vice president? Wealthy? Well, are you really willing to act like that person? Are you willing to take on professional grade? Do you do what that person does? Do you read what they read? Do you spend time doing what they would do? A professional connotates someone that is qualified for holding a professional position in their field. Are you qualified? I know you want to be an executive, or a top earning sales person, but are you qualified? A professional has a deep level of knowledge, a commitment to the area of practice, a dedication to their field. They are in many cases recognized as being a professional by an outside agency. If you really want to be a professional, then maybe, just maybe, you should consider reading what they read, doing what they do, acting the way they act, belong to the same organizations they do. Just wanting to be a professional, does not make you professional grade.