I read an article over the weekend that considered the question of whether "professionalism" will survive the coronavirus pandemic.
Can I just say? I hope it doesn't.
I’m not talking about doing quality work and having appropriate relationships and providing good service — actual professionalism. I certainly hope that sticks around.
The one I'd like to see kick the bucket is the stuffy, performative concept of capital-P Professionalism as a way of conducting oneself as though one does not enjoy a personal life, experience human emotion, or have any kind of fun that hasn’t been cleared through HR.
Being capital-P Professional was always a little bit of a fun and stressful game for me. I nail the s**t out of small-p professionalism. But Professionalism, the culture of Being A Work Person, is not my bag and never has been. Real life is too much fun, and too annoying, and too rough around the edges, and too inconvenient, and too entertaining for me to ignore. Acting Professional is something I can do for short bursts, mostly to entertain myself, but I don’t have the energy or self-restraint to maintain it for an extended period of time.
When I went into business on my own two and a half years ago, one thing I did almost immediately was toss any expectation of Professionalism. My clients know they can expect me to be professional, but I don’t attempt to be Professional. Sometimes I have to schedule phone calls on days when I don’t have childcare. Sometimes I have to push a deadline because I have a sick kid. I don’t stress out about my three-year-old interrupting a conference call, because that’s my life — and if a client can’t be OK with that, they’re not the client for me.
Sounds fine for you, dummy, you’re probably thinking, but what about those of us who work for real companies and don’t get to just make up the rules as we go?
OK, well, first of all, it’s not very Professional to call someone a dummy, but you’re probably a little strung out right now, so I’ll let it go.
Second, thanks for bringing me back to my point.
Here’s my hope for you: that this time, which is forcing companies everywhere to temporarily abandon Professionalism, will encourage them to jettison it forever.
Right now, if you’re in a “non-essential” job (and in my experience, “non-essential” workplaces are the ones that worship most piously at the altar of Professionalism), you may have been able to toss out the usual mask of Professionalism along with any hopes of vacationing this year or seeing a live event ever again. I hope your boss is cool by now with you rolling into your team Zoom meeting with your hair in a day-four topknot and an AC/DC T-short. I hope your kids are popping into phone calls with your clients. I hope you’ve dyed your hair a weird color just because you’ve always wanted to but couldn’t because it’s not Professional (tell colleagues the light in your apartment is weird), or pushed back a meeting because it conflicted with the only grocery pickup time you could get.
That's life. We're living life right now. And unless your job is curing COVID-19, managing your life is more important at the moment than anything else we're doing.
(I am a big supporter of work-life balance UNLESS you're in the novel-virus-curing industry, in which case PLEASE GET BACK TO WORK you can catch up on these newsletters next year. They'll still be as entertaining as they ever were in the first place.)
My hope for all of us (well, not so much me, because I've already staked my territory on the fun side of the "Is It Professional?" line) is that once offices reopen, we can hold on to this wacky new idea that professional people are also human people. Your kids, your grocery pickup slot, your hobbies, your jar of Manic Panic — they'll all still be there "when this is all over" (whatever that means). Managing your life will still be important, except that now everyone you work with will know the extent to which you can do your job while also doing your life. We've already turned the work world upside-down. The companies that survive this time will no longer be able to say that the old way is the only way. (Read this article about the four-day workweek — like an actual 32-hour workweek.)
We've all pulled back the curtain this spring and let our humanity slip. (How many journalists' and TV personalities' living rooms have you seen into this month?) What if we didn't slip it back on? Less polish, more personality. Less Professionalism as art, more professionalism as craft.
Also, let's keep sweatpants and bread baking. Now that everyone's gotten so good at both of them.