jml's notebook



Epistemic status: working hypothesis.

My first real job was big on “professionalism”. By this they meant showing up on time, wearing a suit and tie, and never using “use” when “utilise” would do. This soured me on the term.

More recently, I’ve started to value it, particularly in the context of work-life balance.

A friend quoted this to me:

A professional is someone who does their best, even when they don’t feel like it

I’m offline now, so I can’t source the original author or exact phrasing.

I like this idea. To me, it’s much healthier than the sometimes cult-like demands that companies make of their employees: “bring your whole self to work”, “believe in our mission”, “we’re a family”. Instead: show up; work hard; go home; get paid.

Don’t misunderstand me. It’s great to believe in your company’s mission—it makes life much easier for everyone, and can open channels of creativity and energy that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Likewise, if you love and trust your colleagues like family members, then that is a wonderful thing that should be cherished. But these aren’t essential, not even in the long term.

The problems in both approaches become obvious when it comes time to leave employment. Leaving a cult (or a family!) is intrinsically traumatic. It’s hard, and it leaves you broken and needing to recover. It probably only happens when things have become unbearable. Leaving a job should not be like this.

On the other hand, if a true professional sticks to it even when they don’t feel like it, how will they know when it’s time to go? Should they leave only when a better offer comes along? When the business is failing? This framing of the relationship doesn’t provide any answers, but clearly there are times when enough is enough.

There are other things I’d like to explore around the idea of professional duty (especially with respect to security and privacy), but this is enough for now.