I struggle with professionalism.

I really do.

And now that I’m an “adult” and am “living my life” in a state of “self-guided independence,” I feel like my lack of professionalism is coming to a head. It’s boiling over like a hot pot waiting for spaghetti.

I don’t know why I’m so bad at being professional. As is the case for nearly everything wrong with me, it’s probably because of the way I was raised (Just kidding, Mom and Dad. I love you. You did great.). 

My parents were very loving. Almost too loving? Their love smothered us like syrup on hotcakes. It just kind of melted into the fabric of our being and made my brother and I sweeter, richer, heavier, sloppier people. Because of that, because of their ebullient and unending warmth, we’re both terrible adults. We are like children trapped in adult bodies. Help. Let us out. It smells in here.

After twenty-seven years, I still haven’t learned how to not wear my heart on my sleeve. I still can’t quite stop dreaming out loud or being stupidly optimistic or wanting things to be good and safe and warm for everybody everywhere at all times. The very adult game of politics, even after all these years, is still totally foreign to me. I’ve never once won. Ever. I don’t even know the rules. Whose team am I playing on, anyway? How is that guy over there winning?

I find political correctness nauseating. I find dishonesty disgusting. I think fake smiles are the ugliest most heinous thing to exist on earth, even more despicable than shower spiders and nutria – and those are just awful, terrible, terrible creatures. Here, I’ll show you:

Image(Image courtesy markmaynard.com.)

I tell people the truth when they ask me. Even when they ask “How are you today?” or “Are you upset with me?” My fear of conflict overpowers my intimacy whoring most of the time: if people don’t ask me how I’m feeling, I don’t fold; but when they do, I become a total confessional, an empathic piñata who spills its contents with just a few gentle pokes.

Living life without pretention and with an unceasing heart has its perks.

I am happier than many people I know. I am not a bystander in my life. I have very rewarding and rich relationships. I am aware of my feelings and I express them with as much propriety as I can muster.

But there are so many downfalls to life this way.

First and foremost is my arch-nemesis, professionalism.

When you have the heart of a child, you will be perceived as being childish. It is inevitable. The human mind is only capable of drawing so many lines and looking beneath so many surfaces; more often than not, people will take shortcuts and someone who has big dreams and dewy-eyed optimism will become an irrational, hapless fool in the eyes of professionals.

Likewise, it will be assumed that you are incompetent. Your mistakes will be larger, more all-encompassing and detrimental than those of others. Instead of indicators of your human frailty, they will be a sign of your incapacity to think things through and make logical, careful decisions. They will be identification markers, labeling you as unreliable and disorganized.

Your opinions will be discarded. You will be perceived as the “cheerful one,” the one who “always looks on the bright side,” while your more hopeless colleagues will be the “rational, sensible” ones. When adult problems are being discussed, you will not be asked to offer an opinion. And if you do, you will be overlooked with a degree of coldness so fierce it will remind you immediately of that time your pants didn’t quite finish drying in the dryer but you had to wear them anyway because you were going to be late and you didn’t have any other pants to wear and it was past sunset on a January night.

Being open and affectionate will indicate your instability. You are a boundary crosser, a personal bubble buster. You will offend four out of every twenty people you try to hug.

And most importantly, you will not ever, not even for a second, not once be labeled with the moniker, “professional.” In fact, you, my heart-filled, warm and fuzzy friend will be labeled with its opposite, ugly warted step sister: unprofessional.

It’s a label that doesn’t wash off easily, kind of like “slut” in high school. Once one person deems you deserving of the seal of unprofessionalism, you will wear it like a scarlet letter, forever emblazoned on your adult self. It will influence the way everyone sees you for the rest of your professional life. It will follow you from job to job, colleague to colleague. You’ll be passed for promotions involving leadership roles. You’ll be talked about piteously in meetings of important people.

The only way to rid yourself of the curse of unprofessionalism is to change. Change your level of honesty, change your overt optimism, change your instincts for kindness and unveiled compliments. You’ll have to learn the rules of politics, and there are many. And then you’ll have to play – first just a little, but then more and more because politics have a way of multiplying infinitely once embraced, kind of like mold spreading in a dark, dank place. You might even start to like politics. You’re actually really good at it – you’re no dummy. You’ll stop hugging people when their family members die or when their daughter has a baby. You won’t tell anyone when your house gets foreclosed on or when your sister moves to Montana. You won’t make jokes. You won’t get distracted. You’ll check over your work, once, twice, one more time just in case to avoid making a mistake – they’ll smell the fallibility on you elsewise. And you’ll watch yourself rise, rise to the top of the heap, pitying gravely the poor, unprofessional, unkempt beings at the bottom of your pile. You’ll talk about them during your meetings of important people.

You’ll succeed. You’ll be professional. People will respect and admire you from afar because you look good, because you do the right things, and because you never upset anybody. They will ask for your advice on business matters. They will believe your opinion is correct because it comes from you. They will sit silently when you speak. Because you are professional.

And when you die, they will come to your wake because that’s the respectful thing to do. They won’t go to your funeral – that’s too much, they’ve got other stuff to do – but they’ll at least give you a proper send off. And when they kneel at your casket and look inside, they’ll think, “What a nice suit” and, “Wow, he looks puffier than I remember him.” And they’ll pray, asking God to bless your soul while they simultaneously try to remember what their plans for dinner are and whether or not they remembered to turn off the television that morning.

And while I guess none of this really matters – why would you care how inattentive your mourners are? You’re dead – maybe in some small way it does.

Maybe it is important that social niceties not be our first human priority. Maybe it does matter that we live with heart and choose to feel the wrath of vanilla people. Maybe it’s better to be looked upon a stupid and fickle than to isolate our humanity and freeze dry ourselves into a state of rigor mortis.

Maybe some people are just going to think you suck and you’re wrong no matter what you do.

If being unprofessional is my greatest failure in life, I can live with that. Because there’s a difference between being childish and being child-like.

The former is annoying.

The latter is sacred.

 

So here’s to all the unprofessionals, like myself. May our lives be full of uninhibited zeal, innumerable mistakes and genuine honesty.

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