Professional Considerations

IMG_2023You built a laboratory and started doing what you do because you loved doing it: not because people told you you had to. Somewhere along the way, you thought, “I sure would like to get paid for this, and seeing as how I’m pretty good at it, I probably could.”

Then a miracle happened: someone did pay you, and once that first customer came along, people began calling you a professional. When this happened, you found that the customer could take your work and do almost anything they wanted with it.

On that direct mail advertisement you wrote, the customer started fussing, changing words, whole paragraphs, putting commas where he thought the commas should go, not even consulting a style guide. He wanted to make it sound more like him.

Inside the restaurant you constructed, the customer took down some walls and put up new ones. She repainted one wall without even paying attention to your overall color scheme and added a plastic pink flamingo above the entryway: this despite you both agreeing that the restaurant should have a Mid-Western theme.

And about the filet mignon you prepared, the customer told you it wasn’t cooked long enough, “So take it back and make sure it’s brown, and I mean really brown, in the middle.” Never mind that the customer ordered his stake medium.

As someone with self-respect, you couldn’t help arguing your professional expertise. “A comma doesn’t go there! The floor plan should have more open space! Steak shouldn’t have the texture of beef jerky!” But in the end, because you couldn’t afford to lose future work from the same customer, and because word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool, the customer had the final word.

At this point you might have thought, “I should have never given up my lab space. I should go back to doing the thing I love for myself.” Well, maybe. The smarter choice, however, is to change your definition of what it means to be a professional. Being a professional isn’t about having an infallible expertise, it’s about knowing when to let go.

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