The Professional

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Everyone graduates an amateur in what comes next.

It first hit me that I wasn’t a student anymore when I filled out the immigration form on the plane to Honduras. “Student” was no longer a good cop-out for the profession question.

When the plane touched the tarmac, it was as if I’d arrived in the land of big-boy jobs. The ‘real world’ as they called it in college, and suddenly my world reality was El Progreso, Honduras.

I had no idea what I was doing.

Using humility, I hoped to earn my keep amongst the clients. Using fake-it-til-you-make-it confidence, I tried to act as a Program Director would.

These were noble traits indeed, but there’s a limit; a humble man can be annoying when he won’t pick up and do – with or without asking. I learned this through looks of pity from several clients and colleagues. And faking confidence always runs the risk of being outed as an imposter.

Dammit, I thought to myself, if that’s not the way to a good job then what is? The more I asked this question, and the longer I worked at it, the more the answers revealed themselves.

As I watched and interacted with clients, I developed an odd sense of seniority to my former self. Beginner Jeff, the ex student, didn’t know any of this. Most importantly, though, he didn’t allow himself to be the knower!

Beginner Jeff was still a student inside. His humility was tailored to professors and his fake-it confidence expected to be graded. It wasn’t until he gave himself permission to be the Program Director that these things went from being crutches to being useful.

So, in many ways, I’m still a student. Clients, most of whom are five, fifty years older than me, have a wealth of advice and ideas. The good and the bad. I learn from them and my coworkers alike. But learning is no longer my obligation, it’s my job. We study our own work.

Learn by doing. Learn by mistakes. Learn by failure and its cousin success. These are the things that make you a professional. “I don’t mean doctors and lawyers,” says Steven Pressfield, “those of ‘the professions.’ I mean the Professional as an ideal… It’s a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our mind to view ourself as pros and we do it. Simple as that.”

When handed my final US immigration form, I know exactly what I’m going to write; Director MFI.

Facing a wide open 2016, I know I have this power to be the director. Now the question is, what exactly do I do with it?

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