Why Torture yourself, when life will do it for you?
----Laura Chartoff

What Professionalism is NOT

Does it have something to do with the way you dress?

Well, one can play the "suit" game to a ridiculous degree. The first thing I did the evening after I was terminated from a job was head to the men's store to buy an outfit to wear to interviews. The idea came from one of my daughter's movies: "Billboard Dad". The con-man in that movie said that he wore a new suit so it would not look like each customer was the first person to write him a big check. Well, I certainly got a big salary at the conclusion of my job search, so maybe it worked. Personally, however, I tend towards the Ferengi rule of acquisition: "Never trust a man who wears a better suit than your own". So on my first day to work - it was back to "business casual" for me. I acknowledge I could not keep up the "suit" image for long. It is uncomfortable to me - especially dress shoes. I have foot health considerations. If I do not wear prescription inserts in a good pair of tennis shoes, I do not walk. I have this aversion to being in a wheelchair in my mid 40's, so I wear tennis shoes. I notice a percentage of other people working around me do as well. The plant where I work is massive - if your shoes are not comfortable, you are in for a PAINFUL day of walking. There are people who do the "suit and tie" thing all the time - they are involved in interfacing with customers every day. I do not. I also have a confession. I never learned to tie a tie. I am sure there are web sites out there showing the procedure, but I do not care to learn. Clip-ons RULE! But I do not even wear one of those. The last time I wore a tie to work, it became hopelessly entagled in a wire wrap board - 20 years ago. The last time I wore long sleeves, they became black from pencil carbon - 20 years ago. I opt for nice pants, a nice shirt - and admittedly out of place tennis shoes. But that is because I like to walk. Am I less professional than the suit monkeys? I don't think so! If they were "in my shoes", they would do the same. Professionalism has nothing to do with what you wear.

Does it have something to do with golf?

Gosh, I hope not. I detest golf. Everything about it. It is slow and boring. I do not play. I do not want to play. I do not watch it on TV. I never tune in the Golf cable channel. I wish they would convert every course into a children's playground. If I were going to do any sport, it would be NASCAR. But I do not have any chance of "getting a ride". There is some vague metaphor about hob-nobbing with the boss, but I don't think that him seeing me ineptly tearing up grass trying to hit a spherical object into a hole is going to impress him that I have technical knowlege about analog electronics. But it would say wonders about my patience - or lack of it. It is probably better for me not to go there. I sometimes wonder - if I ever run for President, is a requirement of the office that you play golf? It seems that every one of our heads of state is afflicted with a passion for this worthless passtime. I just do not see it connected with professionalism.

Does it have something to do with working long hours?

Let's not go there. I have already spoken my peace on that topic in "Are you working enough Overtime?" If overtime = professionalism, then I am guilty of being unprofessional. But - my 5 year old daughter will NOT be pregnant at 13. You can decide your priorities. I know mine. I will NOT be an absentee father.

Does it have something to do with being able to be reached on a cell phone 24 hours a day?

Would you stick your head in a 700 watt microwave oven for one minute and hit "Start"? Would you be more likely to stick your head in a 2 watt microwave oven for 350 minutes? (Both expose your brain to 700 watt / minutes of microwave radiation). An average cell phone operates at roughly the same frequency as a microwave oven. Are you on it 350 minutes a month? Congratulations! That is an exposure of 700 watt / minutes of microwave energy. Don't do it! I sure don't - I need all the brain cells I have. Don't talk on a phone while you drive. Drivers who talk on cell phones have the same accident rates as intoxicated drivers. Don't drive drunk. Don't drive and talk on a cell phone. It is not worth your life - or the life you may take. It is certainly not professional to endanger yourself or other people.

What about power lunches?

I spend my lunch hours with William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and other great authors. The nobility of mankind, the heroic visions of these authors. THAT is a POWER lunch. Some days, a long call with my wife and daughter are in order. Or working on a hobby such as genealogy. Once the creative part of me has been satisfied, the technical part can shine again, while other people come back at 1:30 or 2:00 - DRUNK. From their "power" lunches with clients. The stench of the cigarettes they smoked sickens me. Pacifiers - smoky pacifiers is all they are. Someday, soon - smoking will be treated as the menace it truly is. Power lunches - what a joke. They are not professional.

Do you have to be a "Team Player"?

This imagery has always been repugnant to me. This country is in the midst of a mania about organized sports, therefore, everybody assumes that this metaphor will have meaning. Let me tell you what images "team player" brings to my mind.

I was never very good at sports. I was smaller than other guys, and not very skillful. When teams were picked - I was always the last one. If there is any good thing about "goals 2000" (and there are very few things good about it, believe me!) it is an emphasis on the self esteem of the student. I grew up in various locations that might as well be called "Redneck, Texas", because football reigned supreme. If an accident of genetics happens to make you small, your value as a person is denegraded simply because you cannot play this violent and useless passtime. You don't get the girls, you don't get the praise, you don't have friends. "Fun" in physical education classes consists of a game called "dodgeball" - which is actually an excuse for sadistic pigs to hit you so hard it raises bruises on your body. I learned very quickly to touch the ball at the first opportunity, before "halftime", when the big 200 pound bruisers were permitted to cross the line and hunt you down, aiming the supposedly soft ball with deadly force. Any time a volleyball hits with enough force to make a red mark, it could cause brain damage on an unprotected head. Parents - FILE LAWSUITS to protect your kids from this barbaric practice in the state schools.

Self preservation led me to ditch PE at every opportunity, because they would force you to play football. I am disabled partially in my right wrist, because some boys in 7th grade knocked me down during a football game. My arm aches to this day at the sight of this gladiatorial spectacle on TV. I should sue - but undoubtedly some statute of limitations has expired on this crime. I am stuck with an arm that has about 40% mobility and cannot lift over 10 pounds - for life - because a 7th grade PE teacher thought it was healthy for all the boys to play football. No matter what their physical size or build was.

Team player? Find another metaphor!!! All it means to me is rejection, emotional and physical pain, and an assault on my self image. My self worth now comes from an eternal source that will never look on my physical size to determine my value as a person. He died for me. Even if I cannot play football.

Young men like me retreated into schoolwork, studies, and hobbies. As a result, I am now one of the top experts in the world for analog circuit design. You are reading MY work - not a football player's. I turned into an individual contributer - but fortunately one who respects his co-workers based on who they are, not what college football team they cheer for. Companies - VALUE your individual contributors, and don't make them work with morons, twits, and little children. It is foolish to think that a bunch of childish, spoiled brats (generation X'ers) will ever work together as a team. They are interested only in their own selfish interests. They do not like the other members of the team. But - they can learn to respect their colleagues. Concentrate on that - not building a football-like team.

Some Blatant Examples of Unprofessionalism

I thought I would amuse you with some stories of unprofessional conduct I have been subjected to in my past - hopefully none of you have had it this bad!

The manager who was guilty of sexual harrassment.

Not of me, thank goodness. Any man that expresses that type of interest in me will be lacking a few teeth. This manager sexually harassed my girlfriend. This incident is almost 20 years old. I am glad that laws are on the books now to prevent this type of nonsense.

I got my girlfriend from 20 years ago a job as receptionist at the place I worked. She was a shoe-in for the job - qualified and with the looks for a front desk job. The way she related the incident to me, she was subjected to comments that "any woman who does not unbutton the top two buttons of her blouse will not last here". The manager of this place had an affair with every receptionist that had worked there, and my girlfriend was spoiling his perfect record. After a while, we were forbidden to go to lunch together. This was strange, since I brought her to work and took her home - I suppose the manager there was hoping to weasel his way into her affections over lunch. It was not to be, she was interested in me - not him. It must have frustrated him greatly to see us come and leave together, knowing I had the desirable woman he wanted - and he did not - and I was going home with her! It all hit the fan one day. I was already interviewing for another job - having had enough! I came back from a lunch time interview, to find my boss gone - along with 50% of the staff!

I was very lucky to have been on that interview. Had I been in the plant, I would not have been allowed to collect my personal belongings from my office. My boss was not allowed to take his coat or his briefcase! At the time, I was a green engineer - a nobody. But my boss was one of the top experts in the world in the field of electrostatic plotters. You do not treat an expert in ANY field that way! Because I missed the "axe" - I had it better. I was loading my car with my books - when they forced my girlfriend to come down the aisle to lock the back door! I was inside, thank goodness. The intention was that I would go out with another load, and be unable to re-open the door. I beat the system, though. I opened the door, tossed some books outside while standing inside, and then went back to get some more. I got everything out, including the nicest wood-grain nametag I have had in my career. My only regret is not being able to rescue my boss's briefcase and jacket for him. WHY didn't I think of doing that?! I hope he eventually got them back. The company??? It was in deep financial trouble, with millions of dollars of unsold inventory (I wonder why?!). The staff reduction was an attempt to balance the books. I can't help but think that in my case it was personal. The manager never got his date, and fired my girlfriend a couple of weeks later. The company? It was a division of a larger company, and I have no idea how they were re-organized.

Incidentally - one of the engineers they kept, that they thought was really intelligent - a valued employee, was a staunch believer in ASTROLOGY!!! I believe in diversity. It makes for an exchange of fresh ideas, differing ways of thinking about a problem. But astrology? If the rest of his scientific background was that faulty, I would have serious doubts about his ability to do his job.

The takeover

Everybody thinks that mergers are a new phenomenon. Not so! Twenty years ago, I was working for a nice small company, and doing well. I had a couple of successful projects to my credit, and a nice office (not a cubicle). Then one day - we got the news. We had been assimilated by a company that manufactured sporting goods! I wondered what in the world they wanted with our electronics company - the two businesses were not exactly compatible. It soon became evident what was going on. They were in it for the money. Americans were systematically replaced with foreigners who worked for half the salary. My boss ended up being a horrible Englishman with the WORST BAD BREATH in the world, who looked like an aging Beatle!!! Meetings with him were smelly experiences, it was all I could do to avoid hurling in his office. One day, he criticized me for my office decor. His "reasoning" was that he had work related things on his wall, instead of irrelevant things like the paintings that I had. He said that indicated what was important to him - work, and what was important to me - frivolous art. You know what, he was RIGHT!!! The next day, I did take down my paintings and replaced them with what is important to me. I put up Christian posters. Admittedly - I was throwing down the guantlet, but I knew I was leaving for another job. He threw me out of my office and gave it to some Russian guy, and tried to shoehorn me into a cubicle too small for my furniture. I not only fit it all in, I left the office completely bare, right down to the walls! The Russian guy had no furniture! I was gone within two weeks, walking out without a good-bye. The company? Struggling to survive. Without the experienced Americans, experts in the product, it had to re-train every one of the inexperienced "bargain" engineers. They never regained the market they had. I see ads from them occasionally - trying to sell their one remaining product in new markets. I am glad I never owned stock in them!

By the way, I only recently retired the posters - faded through years of bleaching in the light. I have never been pushy about my faith, but I have never hidden it either. I still have an overtly Christian painting on the wall, along with numerous professional awards and pictures of my family.

The boss who "lost it"

I hate to write this one, because I like the guy. Sadly, the friendship is broken and he makes no attempt to keep up with me. The environment was fast paced, the pressure heavy. We were not able to get the product to perform the way the contract specified, the contract being too aggressive in performance and schedule. Other members of the project were working 70 hours weeks. Two of us were not, we were on schedule - even slightly ahead. The other people grumbled about us leaving on time each day. So both of us were called in and ordered to work the 70 hour shifts. We did - for about 2 days. Then we stopped - it was not necessary. I had conflict with this man 5 years before over the same issue. We are friends, but he has a different set of priorities. I have been thoroughly brainwashed by Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame to NOT be an absentee husband or father. I am still married, this man is divorced. I have no idea why, it is not my business. But you know what my guess is!

There was another factor at work in my case - one that I did not wish to share with him or anybody else. I had a heart condition, one that thankfully has been corrected now through surgery. His 70 hour weeks caused me to have life threatening irregular heartbeat. I did not want to admit this problem to anybody, least of all him. I chose to protest the schedule on religious grounds - I had been ordered to work Sundays. I chose wrongly, and I regret it. I lost a his friendship when I contacted a lawyer specializing in religious liberty. I should have gone to him with a cardiologist's report. It was even worse for my colleague who was also forced to work 70 hours - who said he was subjected to profanity. We both left within a week of each other. The project never was completed, the company is now out of that product line - having lost a lot of money once the technical people on the project all left.

Captain Bligh

One boss comes in mind - a West Point graduate who, by all reasonable standards, should have been my friend. We share a love of electronics, and a love of astronomy, we even have kids the same age. Yet his concept of management comes from military discipline. He arranged offices so he could keep a record of when you came to work, and when you left. Even if that made it inconvenient to even go to the bathroom or to the cafeteria. I think that the military really screws up a person's mind. It changes a normal person to being an authority freak. I am mad at our military for turning this nice guy into a monster. When he was doing the duties for which he was well suited - electronics - he was a star. When they made him a manager, it was a disaster - as reflected in the value of the company's stock. What was scary to me as a former stock holder - he actually trumped up a lot of charges against me that were outright lies. I had documentation in my posession that proved he was a liar. If I had gone to court, it would not have been a matter of whether I would win, but only how much of the company's corporate assets I wanted. I didn't do it. As much as my feelings were hurt by being betrayed by him, he has been through a lot. His son has had significant medical problems. I am not a monster. After all of his sons problems, I could not take a him to court. My documentation is now rotting in a landfill. I know the truth, so does my God. I am blameless before Him, except for one minor item. I DID make one mistake that cost the company $300. I offered them a check for the mistake. I take responsibilty my mistakes. Much more costly mistakes made by other employees of that company have probably been the cause of the stock retreating below its IPO price. Or perhaps --- they can't attract good employees, because people interviewing there can see what is going on.

Former military people - listen up. I can't relate to your authority. I never had the chance to serve my country. The only war available to me was the unconstitutional conflict in Viet Nam - meant to prop up the popularity of one of the worst presidents in history - Lyndon Johnson, who also tried to buy votes with his dismally failed "Great Society". I was not, in good conscience, going to serve that President's political agenda. The point is moot, however. My heart would have made me 4F immediately. Had I entered the military and experienced the same training you did, perhaps we could relate better. But I did not. Your training, however, was to obey whatever command was given you immediately, without question. It was a matter of life and death. Now that you are managers, you expect the same from self-centered generation X'ers - to whom the concept of authority is foreign. To manage them, you must cater to their question "what is in it for me?". They don't respect your authority, they have never respected anybody but themselves. Authority, to them, is to be disrespected and ignored for their own selfish interests. Don't expect them to be "yes" men or good soldiers who never question orders. It won't happen. Do not hire anybody who has not been in the military, or they will be a constant thorn in your side! One you will delight in removing.

OK, if you have read this far, you are probably wondering about me. Am I all right?

Well, after being emotionally assaulted like I have, I guess it is a fair question. I am OK. I have it together a lot more than most people. These incidents are funny to me now. I am also 100% certain that the bad managers themselves have totally rationalized the incidents to the point where they are the hero. Whatever. There is a danger in the way they act, though. Somebody not as well founded in their own self image might go postal over it - I am convinced these workplace shootings are the result of managers who cannot treat people right, combined with unstable personalities in workers who do not have their emotional life together enough to be secure. I know who and what I am. I like myself, and know I am so valuable that my Savior died for me. That makes me worth a lot. Somebody who doesn't have that emotional anchor - they might very well take after you with a gun.

I waited
For the Lord on high
I waited
And He heard my cry

He pulled me out of my despair
He taught me how to walk
From fear into security
From quicksand to the Rock

So - What is Professionalism?

I have come to the conclusion that there is no answer. It is a totally subjective term used by companies to criticize you if they don't like you, and to praise you if they do like you. I would like to give a list of absolute standards, such as:

  • Competency
  • Honesty
  • Punctuality
  • Integrity
  • Morality
  • Kindness
  • Humility
  • Perseverence

But I have seen many employees who exhibit these characteristics and many other positive characteristics treated like dirt. My wife among them, when she worked at a mortgage company. It all depends on who the people are that control the company. They are not always the managers. They are the ones who make it all work. If you are on their good side, you are professional. If not, you are not professional. That is all there is to it. Sucking up to them will do no good. If you are not "inside", you are out. All the way out! Do not stick around. You will know when that happens. Take action to protect yourself and your income.