I spend a lot of time pondering how to live a meaningful life, and lately I’ve been thinking about life at work.
Work is a major portion of our lives, at least for most of us, and I’ve been mulling over what it means to be a professional. The definition most of us are probably familiar with is a professional is someone who gets paid to perform a certain task, duty, trade, or skill. The fourth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary defines a professional as, “One who earns a living in a given or implied occupation; a skilled practitioner; an expert.” That’s a pretty good definition, but I have one major problem with it: it doesn’t talk about character.
Robert Sutton’s The No Asshole Rule is a fantastic book about dealing with assholes in the workplace. It covers how to get along with these rude coworkers, prevent their existence in your company, and how to ensure you don’t become the asshole. The character of a professional is the overarching theme. It’s something we don’t talk about enough. We honor things like problem solving skills, the ability to work quickly, having original ideas, etc. If they’re not an asshole, well, that’s just a bonus.
Character stems into more areas than just how abrasive you are, which is what The No Asshole Rule focuses on. It’s more than just your moral and ethical strength. It’s more than being the nice person at work. It’s a cocktail of all these things and more. It’s about living a life you’re not ashamed to call yours. It’s about following through and keeping your word. It’s about being passionate and critical—the constructive kind, not the negative kind—while still being sensitive to others. It’s about being virtuous and courageous. I could continue, but I think you get the idea. The bottom line is this: your paycheck doesn’t make you a professional, your character does.