Reflections on being a 'professional'

A few weeks ago, my boss asked me to attend a workshop on leadership, influence, and storytelling. It was a great opportunity at best, and a day out of the office at worst (and they were offering free coffee. ALL. DAY.) He really wanted me to go — I agreed.

Leading up to the event, I was pretty nervous. I’d never been to anything even close to a professional development workshop, and I had no idea what to expect. Would there be 20 people? 100? 1,000? I chalked my nervousness up to introversion and fear of the unknown.

But there was something else underlying my angst. I finally put my finger on it — the other people there would all be professionals.

I’m not a professional. Five months ago I was an intern with an editor, and I still lived in a college dorm. In a few days, I’d have to walk into a room with an unknown number of people who were real, genuine professionals and pretend to be one of them. I would be a phony among these experienced, seasoned folks, and it was intimidating. They would see through me. By five minutes in, I’d have to throw my hands up and say, “You caught me! I’m a fake. I’m no professional. Please love me.”

I got more anxious as the day approached (Okay, having to navigate the T and commuter rail before my first cup of coffee was part of it). I waited for my coworker in the lobby, refusing to walk in all by myself. The build-up culminated when I opened the door, hung up my jacket, and started sizing up the rest of the crowd.

***

If you can’t see where this is going, spoiler alert: Everyone in the room was exactly like me. There was accountant me, human resources me, even sales me. I was there at 22, 25, and 30 years old. Some people looked like nervous me and some looked like confident me. There was introverted me and extroverted me.

Everyone was some derivative of me. What makes us all so similar is that not one of us in that room knew everything. We’re all winging it, making it up as we go, and hoping we’ll pick up some wisdom along the way.

I got some great takeaways from that workshop, and I’m glad I didn’t chicken out. But the most important learning was realizing that, somehow, we’re all professionals and none of us are. It’s hard to be vulnerable, but that’s what it takes to learn and grow. We’ve gotten where we are because we’re always pushing forward. Every now and then, we have to remember to take a step back and appreciate our own, unique experience. When we fight to be open with each other, we can all learn to value ourselves and what we have to offer.

P.S. The workshop was Intelligent.ly’s EMERGE, and you should do it.

 

Originally published on Medium