Authenticity is Overrated: How to Adopt the Professional Attitude

It has been three years since I started writing and publishing new articles on this site consistently. If I’m being honest, it’s not easy.

There were days when I didn’t feel like writing, there were days when my schedule was fully occupied, and there were days when I doubted my own work — or the whole purpose of writing.

However, the more I write, the more I realize a critical element in all creative careers that people don’t often talk about:

The Professional Attitude.

It’s crucial to be professional at what you do. But many may ask:

What is professionalism anyway? And how to be a professional at the end of the day?

Seth Godin on the Professional Attitude

In one of Tim Ferris’s podcast episodes[1], he interviewed Seth Godin, a best-selling author of the book This Is Marketing, Linchpin, The Dip, and more. Their conversation on adopting the professional attitude inspired me a whole lot.

In the interview, Seth Godin said:

“The key part of it [becoming the successful person you want to be] is to say: ‘I’m not going to be situational about my decision-making, I’m going to be strategic about my decision-making.’ And you only have to make that choice once. You’re not going to be great at it first, but you can stop acting like a 14-year-old, and start acting like a grown-up, a professional.”

He then completed his statement with:

“Which mean — and this is where I got in trouble before — authenticity is totally overrated. I don’t want an authentic surgeon who says: ‘Urgh… I don’t really feel to do a knee surgery today…’ I want a professional who shows up whatever they feel like.”

With that professional approach, Seth Godin then admitted that he’s not always authentic. There were times when he didn’t feel like doing a speech, but that was what his clients hired him to do. So he got them done professionally.

Professionalism v.s. Authenticity

There is a trend of being authentic and vulnerable going around on the Internet, especially the creative space. I wasn’t totally against it but deep down, I never really buy into that.

  • When I was answering a Quora question, instead of making it a personal story (that proves to be viral), I prefer to stick with useful information.
  • When writing a new article, instead of telling you more about me, I want to learn more about you and write articles that help solve real problems.
  • When it comes to social media, okay… I’m not active on them because I just don’t (authenticity), and I prefer to stick with writing better (professionalism).

It was hard to put into words before but when I heard what Seth Godin said, it just sorts of clicked.

It’s not that authenticity is unimportant, it’s just that professionalism should always come before authenticity. And many people are opting for being authentic because, in many ways, it’s easier.

  • It’s easier to write about why I don’t feel like writing today and make a story out of it instead of doing the research and actually writing something useful.
  • It’s easier to tell your spouse how stressed you are instead of going out and finding ways to put enough food on the table.
  • It’s easier to update a vlog every single day, pretending someone is watching instead of filming something significant.

Again, it’s not that authenticity is not important. It’s just that we should place it right after professionalism.

Robert Downey Jr didn’t get famous by telling his life story; he performs professionally. Casey Neistat didn’t become successful by vlogging; he started by being really good at filming. Gary Vaynerchuck didn’t become influential by being the loudest person on the Internet; he made it long ago by being an entrepreneur.

Professionalism in Creative Work

There are many places where we could learn about the professional attitude. Athletes train according to their plan regardless of how they feel. Navy SEAL goes through the routine even when they want to give up. Surgeons get their work done even when they’re dealing with personal issues.

This made me realize one thing:

Creatives and entrepreneurs should keep creating great works and products, and then tell the world about them.

Professionalism is a Practice and Process — Not the End Goal

Even when I figured out that I should adopt the professional attitude in everything that I do, I still find it challenging. After all, how do you know when you’re being professional? And what if people don’t see you as a professional?

It’s easy to fall into the trap; that is, wanting to appear professional instead of being a professional.

People talk about how to improve your appearance, how to manage your online presence, and how to show off the accomplishments you’ve achieved. But adopting the pro attitude is just like being mature, it’s what you do every day: not your age, your reputation, or the money you have in your bank account.

Here are three tips I learned in becoming professional from the book Your Move by Ramit Sethi:

  • Always be prepared. Professionals plan ahead. Instead of doing what they feel like doing from moment to moment, they spend their time and energy strategically based on the outcome they want to create.
  • Always be proactive. People who adopt a professional attitude don’t wait around for people tell them what to do. They’re proactive in learning new information, in contributing their expertise, and in solving problems for the people they serve.
  • Teach people how to respect your professionalism. Be proud of yourself by adopting a professional attitude. Instead of getting pushed around, show people how to respect your work and time.

Your Choice

First, thank you for reading all the way to the end of this article. Now, you have only two choices: Easy Work or Hard work.

Easy Work: Authenticity before professionalism. Do the work based on how you feel and then internalize it by showing the world your vulnerabilities.

Hard Work: Professionalism before authenticity. Do the work regardless of how you feel and measure your success based on how well you serve your people.

Again, adopting the professional attitude is hard, but once you step up to that level, you can’t go back because you get to see and accomplish so much.

And here is a little secret no one tells you:

When the world is full of people who choose to do the easy work, giving an extra fuck to be a professional take you so much further.

FOOTNOTES

  1. Listen to Tim Ferriss’s interview with Seth Godin here: Seth Godin on How to Say “No,” Market Like a Professional, and Win at Life.
1 comment… add one
  • Great article! I love the comparison between authenticity and professionalism.

    These days we have way too many people trying to be “authentic” while what we really need is pros who can make some real change in the world.

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