Being professional

What does being professional mean to you? There’s some obvious points around getting the job done well, to meet deadlines and budget, and mostly that’s not something I have any trouble with. I’ve spent more than a decade now writing to word count and deadline, finding words to promote other people’s work and generally making myself useful.

It’s the personal side of being professional that most often foxes me. Most of my adult life, I’ve worked independently. Often I have been part of teams, online and in the real world, but people-contact has tended to be by email, or in short bursts. I realise I’ve not had much exposure to workplace culture, and I don’t have much idea what normal people do when they’re at work. Except that friends with normal jobs seem to be on facebook all the time.

I find the ways in which we modify ourselves according to space are fascinating – perhaps more so because I tend to do it less than I think is normal. Who are we for our families, and is that the same as who we get to be at work, and is there another person who we let ourselves be when socialising, and does that change if we’re drunk? Is there another, secret person who lives inside our heads and is far better, cooler, more attractive and successful than all our other selves put together?

What further muddies the water for me, around how to act in a work context is that what I do is often meant to be emotive. There are songs and stories where really what I’m aiming for is to make people cry. I found with recent audio work that letting my voice crack like my heart was breaking, or letting notes of frantic insanity creep in, was wholly necessary. When I’m working with other people – be that political, to promote a book or get an event advertised, there tends to be a lot of emotional investment. If I’m reviewing a book, I’m dealing with something that represents the life and soul of the creator.

None of my assumptions about being calm, cool and collected actually work terribly well around a lot of the work I find myself doing. That in turn has me wondering about those spaces where you couldn’t care less about the company, the output, or anything except that they pay by the hour and it makes life possible. I have done a bit of that along the way. Sometimes it feels easier not to have to care too much about the people or the work around me, but after a while that starts to feel hollow and pointless.

Stood on the outside, the cool collected professionalism that seems to be what so many people are after, sometimes looks suspiciously like not giving a shit.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “Being professional

  • Raven Seven

    Also, there is so much ‘nonsense’ about as well. I worked somewhere where we were told not to apologise and say ‘sorry’. It was not professional. I think at that point I just gave up and wore my cynical cloak. I used to say to myself ‘Did I just roll my eyes out loud?’

  • syrbal-labrys

    Sometimes I think professionalism can be summed up by the ability to just keep DOING what one must do in the face of all contrary evidence of success.

  • angharadlois

    I think a certain level of detachment is healthy, especially in customer service/people-facing roles. People are sadly not, on the whole, amazingly considerate and self-aware beings; many of them save their consideration and emotional energy for the people who matter most to them (their family, their friends, their boss, I don’t know…); other people are just unpleasant, and need to treat service staff as inferior in order to confirm their sense of their own elevated position in life. If people who work behind bars and in shops started taking things personally, they would just break down. I used to. I got around it, in the end, by taking a step back, realising it was not about me, and developing a deep compassion for people who felt they had to live in such a way – though it does nothing to excuse their rudeness.

    • angharadlois

      p.s. yes, I am writing this at work :) – though I am technically at lunch, and my workplace is very supportive!

      The bigger question behind all this, of course, is: should things be this way? Absolutely not. Capitalism and the “service economy” is massively destructive to our sense of the humanity of others.

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