What does it mean to be a professional?
In many contexts, the term professional means paid, in particular in the sporting world. A professional athlete is paid, an amateur is not.
Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) won the light heavyweight gold medal in the 1960 Olympics as an amateur. In October of that same year, he fought for the first time as a professional, defeating Tunney Hunsaker. What was the tangible difference in the amateur Ali in the summer of 1960 versus the professional Ali a mere four months later? Was the difference more than a paycheck? I wouldn’t think so.
Clearly, professional implies the person is being paid to perform. But someone who is paid to do a job is not always a professional. So clearly, professionalism means a higher standard than just being paid to do a job.
A professional shows up and does the job even when she isn’t 100%. A professional accepts accountability and responsibility for the job. A professional is trusted.
These attributes – trusted, accountable, responsible, reliable – are a few words I would use that make someone a professional.
A large part of my life is spent with volunteers – clearly volunteer firefighters, but also volunteers at church, little league, cub scouts, and so many other places. I’d like to argue that just because someone is a volunteer, it doesn’t make them an amateur. It is clear to me you can maintain a professional demeanor while volunteering.
Given that this is a blog directed to the volunteer emergency services, I want to specifically thank all of you volunteer firefighters and first responders who are professional in action, though not in compensation. Thank you for showing up when your community needs it, even when it isn’t convenient. Thank you for being trusted, and responsible for the safety of our neighborhoods. Thank you to all who are dedicated to show up, give of themselves, and improve the lives of others around them.
Happy New Year.