To many, the difference between being a professional or having a career is a matter of semantics. For the professional, it comes down to being able to distinguish yourself in the pack. Therefore, what it takes to have a career is not what it takes to become a professional.
To have a career, you can attend a trade school or university to acquire knowledge about a subject, like finance, carpentry, engineering, etc. You utilize this knowledge to do good work in an organization. Over time, you develop experience, are rewarded for a job well done and you move up the ladder with promotions and/or raises in income. In some cases, you may venture into various segments of your industry. Except, the focus remains in the area of your expertise. And you acquire new knowledge as the laws of your industry change. For others, the goal is to eventually become a manager. As manager, you are given the opportunity to manage the output and career trajectory of others.
At the same time, there are those who become bored with their career. They seek greener pastures in a new industry. The new career provides the much needed injection of excitement and challenge. Ultimately, the hope is greater remuneration.
This pattern can be followed for 30-40 years. After that, retirement affords relief from a career that provided financial gain and knowledge. Since most people are not happy with their job/career, those 30-40 years occur as a trade off. They believe they could have done something better with their time. Retirement may or may not allow them to explore those possibilities.
A professional, on the other hand, is someone who may have started training when they were a child, like a musician, athlete or entrepreneur. The best professionals train to compete with themselves. They are driven to outdo themselves each week, month and year. They are the minority of the population. Very few make it to become the professional athlete, musician or manager. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he refers to them as the people who practiced their craft for 10,000 hours or more.
They distinguish themselves by being the best. They break records, set new precedence in the legal profession and produce breakthroughs in medicine. They are the Thomas Edison’s of the world.
These are the people who may or may not possess the educational credentials. Yet, they have the capacity to invent new knowledge for others to follow. Albert Einstein did have a college degree. Steve Jobs did not. However, they both revolutionized their industries. To ensure they made a difference, they consistently and continuously carved out time to develop themselves as a professional, even after they had established a reputation for being the best. It is the same for a dancer, athlete or doctor. Professionals never stop developing themselves. They incorporate some form of practice in their daily routine. When you contrast them with someone who has a career, the career person, may depend on vocational or college training. They are more likely to increase their knowledge through job experience or as regulatory agencies require it.
In addition, many professionals never retire. Musicians still play. Athletes and dancers may become teacher or coach. Professional managers go from being CEO to board members and/or consultants.
As you can see, from the outside, it is easy to say a career and profession is a matter of semantics. For the professional, it requires a commitment to constantly development when everyone else is sleeping or taking a break. Their profession is an opportunity to express their prowess. The professionals don’t work to live. They live for their work. And the reward is being the best. Without question, the money follows. Which will you choose – career or professional?