Fall 1987 // Volume 25 // Number 3

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Much Ado About Professionalism

We in Extension often speak of ourselves as "professionals." In doing so, we should be aware that being a professional involves privileges and responsibilities, as well as rewards and obligations. Such a person is assumed to be well-educated, knowledgeable about specific subjects, and dedicated to sharing this knowledge with others. In my opinion, you can't be called a professional unless you are in love with the work itself. If you really want to test yourself and how much you like and appreciate your position, just imagine yourself without it. There are many times your attitude may be more important than your ability.

In an organization of professional people, each member makes important contributions to a similar goal; each is needed; each is important. Each assumes responsibility for planning and managing his or her own time and for his or her own development.

I see eight necessary dimensions in seeking to develop as a professional:

  • Be Ambitious. Ambition is what makes people eager to climb to a higher level and gives them the energy to make the effort. The very finest kind of ambition is concentrated and directed to something worthwhile.

    Douglas Jerrold wrote: "Without ambitious people, the world would never get up. Ambitious people are the busybodies who are about early in the morning, hammering, shouting, and rattling the fireirons and rendering it generally impossible for the rest of the house to remain in bed." These are the kind of people Extension needs.

  • Be Goal-Oriented. What do you want? What do you want to be? Unless you can answer these questions specifically and with determination, you're starting to play a game already lost. The most important part of getting what you want is knowing what you want.

    Your objectives should be directed toward a particular achievement. They must be specific, concrete, definite, purposeful, creative, and backed by energy. As you determine your objectives, you'll need to design a plan, without which all our little bricks of construction might as well remain in the brickyard.

  • Be Positive and Take Advantage of Opportunity. Eliminate such sentences as, " I'm too old," "I'm too young," and "I've no time." Being positive is an essential element in initiative. Some people stumble over opportunity as if it were an obstacle, but positive people see the plus values. To a large extent, the future will be what people believe it to be. Opportunity offers itself every day. Your ability, will for action, power of vision, knowledge, and initiative will determine how and when you will take advantage of it.

  • Be Enthusiastic and Persevere. Enthusiasm is another necessity. Great works often are performed not by strength, but by perseverance and wholeheartedness. Keep your eye on where you want to go. Wise people make their own future, giving of themselves gladly and devoting their heart and soul to something beyond the satisfaction of today's wants.

  • Be Truly Interested in People. Forget once in a while about money and think in terms of people. Magnify their good points. Give other people one raise every day - praise. If you don't praise those with whom you work, you're working twice as hard yourself and getting less cooperation and ability from others. The ability to get along with people and develop a teamwork attitude is essential to peace of mind and true professionalism.

  • Be Open-Minded. Listen and pay attention to other people and their special needs. To understand and communicate with people demands that we admit two truths: we're all different and often not aware in what respect, to what degree, or why; and dealing with people requires two-way communication of ideas. Being open-minded is one mark of professionalism. We don't have the right to call ourselves professionals if we can't listen to both sides of an argument or if we insist that what's good for us must be good for and imposed on everyone else.

  • Be Interested in Furthering Your Education. Education plays a part in preparing us for maturity, but it should never be considered over and done with (although I don't wish to suggest that advanced degrees are the only road to salvation). At any stage of life, it's wholesome to say, "I'm a student." Today, we're confronted with a complex series of new situations that youthful education, no matter how good, could never equip us to meet. Learning never ends. The number of things modern people need to know to understand what really goes on around them has increased more rapidly than the number of things they now know.

  • Be Adaptable to Change and an Innovator. I'm not sure there was ever a time that this was more important. There seem to have been more changes in the past 5-10 years than in the preceding 10 -15. In my opinion, this trend will continue and probably accelerate. We must gear ourselves so we continue to be in a position to initiate change and accept innovations designed, developed, and engineered elsewhere. Above all, we must do it quickly and effectively. View change and adaptability as the norm and, in fact, reject status quo. Anytime you have to change - you have to leave something behind. Helen Keller wrote, "When one door closes another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has just opened for us."

We don't become professional all at once. We advance toward it little by little, always leaning toward our development as a person. As you strive to improve yourself professionally and accomplish great things, you'll build character, strengthen self, and gain many rewards. You need to think of yourself as a unique person with a unique contribution. The information contained in the "Special Section" of this issue should help you move closer to reaping those rewards.