Redefining Professionalism

There it was again—another instance when professionalism got in the way of being human.

I had a family member who asked me what to reply to her colleague in his email. It had already been thirty minutes and she was still staring at that short email. 

I asked her, “What is it that you really want to say?” 

She said that she needed to compose what she wanted to say in a “professional” way.

Wait, what? She was staring at her phone for thirty minutes already! All she wanted to say was, “Thank you for working hard even on a holiday.” And yet, she still wanted to compose a more “professional” email!

I really could never understand the corporate world where it is more important to sound “professional” or sound smart than to simply be honest and to be human.

We forget to show and express genuine appreciation for what others have done.

We look at being emotional as a weakness. That’s why we try our best not to show any emotions, even joy and excitement, at work.

We even put on the mask of “professionalism” to hide our vulnerabilities—our vulnerabilities which make us human and, should we embrace them, make us stronger.

For the sake of being professional, we lose our sense, no, we deliberately lose our sense of what it means to be human until we no longer feel our humanity at all. It’s no wonder why work consumes many of us instead of us expressing who we truly are through our work.

Just for the sake of being “professional.”

And sometimes, it is this same professionalism that tells us not to care—especially for other humans.

We are humans first before we are professional. And if being professional means being less human, then I’d rather be not professional.

Professionalism Has Its Place

Still, I believe in professionalism. Professionalism is an often used word, but most of the time, it is misused. Professionalism has its place.

But, we have to redefine what being professional means.

Being professional doesn’t mean being stern, being emotionless, or being smart. It doesn’t mean being sounding smart for that matter.

Being professional simply means keeping your promises and honoring your commitments. Simple as that.

Being professional simply means getting things done. It means doing what you said you will do.

Why should we add being stern, being emotionless, and being smart to what professionalism means?

I believe that as long as you do what you promised to do, it’s okay to care, to show some emotions, to be vulnerable, and, most importantly, to be human. It’s okay as long as your emotions and your vulnerabilities also do not get in the way of getting things done. Master your emotions.

Being human is also what helps us feel engaged with our work as we can be our true selves and express ourselves fully. And we need that right now in this world where more and more people are feeling disengaged with their work.

Also, the world needs more humans in the workforce today. Humans who care enough for the world, the environment, and other humans. Humans who want to make a difference through the work that they do.

Being professional and being human can indeed go hand in hand. You do not have to choose one over the other. In fact, how wonderful would the world be if we have more humans than robots and zombies in the corporate world?