What Does it Mean to Be Professional?

What Does it Mean to Be Professional?


I was reading a discussion the other day among women college graduates of what it means to be “professional.” There are of course the basics. Being on time, presentable, respectful, and reliable. But the thing that really got us wondering is whether being professional requires being “calm.”

Ok, that sounds reasonable, but the question is what does “calm” really mean? Some people seem to think that it means that women need to be quiet. Don’t speak out of turn. Don’t speak too loudly. Or to put it another way, don’t stand up for yourself.

Ummm, no. In fact, it is absolutely clear to me that if you want to be respected as a professional, you HAVE to speak up. This is so for many reasons, not the least of which is that no one will respect you if they see that you don’t even respect yourself.

To be sure though, that does NOT mean completely losing your shit in front of or at your colleagues when something bothers you or you’re angry, even legitimately. That is just undignified and ultimately counterproductive. (Don’t ask how I know….)

What it does mean is that you have to be able to express your view, your anger, calmly but FORCEFULLY. An excellent, and recent, example of this is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s response to Ted Yoho after he called her a “fucking bitch.” She had to have felt stunned and furious at the time. Who wouldn’t? But despite the strong emotional reaction this epithet had to have provoked, Ocasio-Cortez refused to stoop to Yoho’s level, choosing instead to deliver a powerful speech that just eviscerated him. (And I love that she was wearing a red blazer and red lipstick!)

To me, THIS is what it means to be professional.

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