One of the things constantly pecking away at my subconscious these days is the urge to reflect on similarities between the writing and music industries. It’s one of those things I’m loathe to spend much time on, preferring instead to look forward. Since the cello is no longer an option, a sense of urgency has befallen my wish for a meaningful career. My efforts to learn a new industry have kept me at a constant dead sprint. But here, I think my subconscious might be on to something with this whole “reflection” thing. Understanding where you’re going, and where you’ve been, are key for anyone hoping to succeed. So I got to thinking about professionalism in general, and how its predicated on varying expectations.
In the beginning, you’re young and promising. Most employers carry different expectations for “newbs” — whether they’ll admit it or not — understanding that “young and promising” must ultimately yield returns on that promise. Of course, “young and promising” can also become worn out like a pair of old sneakers. Sometimes life throws us curve balls, and we break the “promise” part of “young and promising.” Poor decisions, or sometimes just events beyond one’s control, snip away at the strings of the balloons we hoped would carry us into the future. Our “young promise” went to sleep and woke up as a struggling young professional fraught with “issues.” Now, an anchor shackles against the lift of our “would-have” dreams. Our possibilities no longer seem limitless.
But being professional doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes. It does, however, mean that you are expected to deftly manage your mistakes. If you’re really good, perhaps you can craft them into something truly great. You’ll always have the future.
In the future, you can mend bridges. In the future you can right previous transgressions. In the future you can strive for the fulfillment of dreams. In the future, you can learn that getting side-tracked was never the end. (In the future, if they let you, you can try to land that plane better.) In the future, you live on to fight another day. This is the path of someone who manages to break the shackle before the string of his/her last balloon is cut. This is the path of the person who remembers that, as long as you continue to breathe, your life is never over.
This is my path.
Building a new career at 38 is invigorating. Everything is new again, and though I no longer have the “promise of youth,” I find that I have a new promise. I have the promise of professionalism. This is the transferable commodity that someone my age hopes to bring to a new gig, though it isn’t as easy as it might seem.
You see, being professional isn’t simply about using good manners, returning emails in a timely fashion, or wearing a tie. It goes back to those pesky expectations. (Often, they’re the same expectations which forged shackles the last time around.) Nevertheless, being professional means expertly fulfilling expectations — a tall order if you’re new to an industry and do not know what the expectations are or how to manage them with grace.
But I believe there are constants. Here are a few.
Be positive. Nobody wants to work with Debbie-downer. (Not even you, Debbie.) Every interaction you have within your industry should be governed by a positive mentality. Work to frame suggestions in a positive way. Practice reflecting negativity with compliments where you can, or redirect the energy to something befitting the dignity of your project.
Do good work. There is no fuel like the satisfaction of a job well done. Period.
Exceed expectations. It is true that being professional means expertly fulfilling expectations, but why not exceed them? Sure, doing your job is a tall order, but often the difference between “fulfilling” and “exceeding” expectations is a simple, “thank you” or “please.” Whenever you see a small opportunity to go a few feet further – do it! You’ll be glad you did.
Finally, get a sense of humor. Who doesn’t like to laugh? Learning the appropriate time to be the person who injects levity will make you
stand out in the crowd. Of course, you’ll probably want to save that great dumb-blonde joke(you know the one I mean,) for your inner-most sanctum, because it probably isn’t going to get you that gig at Random House, nor is it the best way to finish your audition for the New York Philharmonic. On the other hand, your sense of humor sustains when coping with life’s adversities. It is in the spirit of this last requisite that I offer one “don’t” to my list of professional attributes.
DON’T go on a murderous rampage. This might seem obvious, but consider how much time musicians and writers spend alone, listening to the muse inside their heads. If your muse says stuff like, “Kill! Kill!” or “Slash! Slash!” — safe bet you need a better outlet for dealing with stress or isolation.