Why Being Professional Sucks and How to Correct It

If you ever want to be more than mediocre in your career, then being professional is useless.

I’m not talking about having the skills and know-hows to do your job. I’m talking about acting like a faceless, paper-thin business character out of an amateur novel, a behavior you’ll most likely recognize if you’ve spent anytime in an established corporation.

If you ever want to be more than mediocre in your career, then being professional is useless.

The average corporate world is massively uninspiring for many reasons. One of them is this– people behave as if they were standardized products off the assembly line with no personality, emotion, or history, and treat each other just like that. No need to rock the boat by showing who you are. No need to interrupt the simple efficiency of business transactions with the complexity of being human. No need to let them know that you have more dimensions (and less perfections) than your spotless performance review. And apparently many think that all this egg-shell walking is part of “professionalism”.

You may believe that being smart and working hard will take your career somewhere. But any reasonable college graduates nowadays can do analytical thinking. And in a world of abundant productivity, hardworking is a mere commodity.

…in a world of abundant productivity, hardworking is a mere commodity.

In case it’s not clear, here’s the definition of “commodity” from Investopedia: “A basic good used in commerce that is interchangeable with other commodities of the same type… The quality of a given commodity may differ slightly, but it is essentially uniform… … commodities must also meet specified minimum standards, also known as a basis grade.” In case it’s still not clear, look at your computer or your smartphone right now. They are smart, hardworking–and better yet– more “professional” than you can ever aspire to be. If you compete with them, you’ll never pass the “basis grade”.

Being professional worked well in the industrial age, because back then, machines were expensive and human workers all aspired to be machines. But in a world where machines are dirt cheap, you shouldn’t ever attempt to rival them in what they do well, if you’re really smart. Instead, you focus on what you do well, i.e. being human.

What you offer are in short supply, the things the entire world is hungry for: authenticity, meaning, story, inspiration.

Rather than following the standard and guarding yourself with a professional facade, you forge real connections by sharing who you are. You voice your opinions even when they make the orthodox cringe. You refuse to apologize for your feelings. And you don’t ever hide your mistakes. What you offer are in short supply, the things the entire world is hungry for: authenticity, meaning, story, inspiration. Nobody can cross you off the book easily with a system upgrade or corporate restructuring. Because you are irreplaceable by definition– you are the only you in the world.

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In this week’s BananaOnFire, I talked about why being professional is overrated and how sharing stories can change the culture of a group. I also told the story of how I lost my virginity. And no, I didn’t leave it on the metro.

(Watch this video on YouTube)

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