What does it mean to be a professional?

Professional writer... from bed.
Professional writer… from bed.

I mentioned last week that I was a wee bit obsessed with the podcast “Millennial”, hosted by Megan Tan. “Millennial” is a podcast that discusses what most people don’t – how to maneuver your twenties.

Listeners follow Tan as she graduates from college, searches for jobs, waits tables in the meantime, buys a car, moves in with her boyfriend, all the while recording the podcast. During her first year at her day job, she discovers just how much she loves creating the podcast, putting her in a situation I know all too well: the double hustle.

She’s putting in a lot during the 9-5 job, but also putting a lot into her podcast after work. But if you had the ability to choose? Which one would you pick?

In episode #16 (during season two), “Double Life”, Tan explores the structures we often follow within society. We follow the traditional flow, go to school, go to college, graduate, and then we get jobs, day jobs that have regular deadlines and paychecks and all the feels of community.

But the side project just gives us that feeling (inside my bones, it goes electric-wavy when I turn it on…) that is sometimes not part of a 9-5 gig. Is it the typical “millennial” thing to do to consider quitting your safe, salaried job to jump into something just because you’re passionate about it?

The entire episode is dedicated to Tan weighing the pros and cons of quitting her job to pursue the podcast full-time. I won’t spoil it for you, because if you’re anything like me, this battle hit true to home.

And really, what does it mean to be a professional?

The ‘ole dictionary says a true professional is someone qualified in a professional, or someone engaged in a profession for which they are paid, and not a pastime.

Some say a you become a professional when you start getting paid for whatever it is you do. Or maybe it’s measured by hours: whatever you spend most of your time doing, that’s what your profession is. Hmph.

I know it took me a long time to start calling myself a writer. It was well after I’d been paid for doing it. I think, for me, it was more about what I had pictured in my head as a professional writer. I pictured tall buildings, lipstick, and communal coffee pots.

But today’s professional writer looks many different ways. Sure, there are scenes like the one I’ve invisioned. But many writers do so from their beds, sans makeup. There are writers who work in cubicles, from planes and trains, and those who probably spend a majority of their time waiting tables or tending bar, but hunched over in a coffee shop corner between shifts, typing.

I’ve written for money, for free, for fun stories and not-so-fun ones, and I’ve written from my bed, from planes, trains, coffee shops, offices, my car, poolside – oh the places you’ll go!

I’m not sure what clicked; what made me start calling myself a writer – perhaps the sheer fact that I’ve had nearly 1,000 stories printed with my byline; written nearly 1,500 blog entries, published four books, and simply remain curious about the craft of writing.

Truthfully, when I think of “professional” or “professionalism”, it comes across to me as an attitude; a way of being. You can do whatever you want as your career, your day job, your passion project, but it’s how you carry yourself through all of it that makes you a professional.


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