Current Status: -posted

Monday, July 09, 2012

Obsessing Over Professionalism

The blog below started out as an email to my wife, Sara, as a word of encouragement in her photography endeavors. Sara, I hope you continue to strive in what you do. Enjoy the gifts that God has provided, help others with those gifts, and He will provide you with everything you need.

I'm always amazed, especially in the photography industry, at how much angst and worry stems just from using (or wanting to use the word) "professional". Here's the definition:

Professional: engaged in a specified activity as one's main paid occupation rather than as a pastime; having or showing the skill appropriate to a professional person; competent or skillful.

Check out this article I stumbled upon recently from one of our Photography friends on Facebook:

The standards created today, whether it be photography, graphic design, or heck, even carpentry, or auto mechanic (ie. pick your field) -- these standards are placed there by society, schooling, customer expectations, in comparing ourselves to others in the field, and often in standards-based organizations. They are also affected by technology, and just what is "possible", based on what has been done already. But, I for one believe that it is up to the "professional", indeed the business owner, to make the judgement call internally concerning where they currently reside and/or wish to go in the prices they charge, how they provide their service, where they will limit themselves in those services, and the level of quality they provide. After this is decided and/or obtained, it is ultimately up to their customers to decide upon their own happiness with the level of service they have received. This final indicator is the most important. This final indicator supersedes any college degree, any accreditation, or other outside inputs or criticisms. This is the true judge, for these are the people paying for the service. Customer feedback even supersedes our own shortcomings and/or self-criticisms. In my business experience, if the customer is happy, they'll let you know. If they're unhappy, they will also tell you.

My wife Sara has longed to continue growing her photography business and expanding her skills in this field. I have experience in this field as well, but I've learned even more being around her. I've tried to help Sara build her confidence and she's done some AMAZING work, both for design clients (business owners) I brought to the table, as well as some work she's done for newlyweds, engagement shoots and more. But one thing I've noticed along the way from hearing Sara talk about this field is just how much photographers compare themselves to each other. I suppose this happens in just about every field of study. But with photography, it seems to have escalated to the point of creating a new standard at which, unless you obtain it, you are no longer professional or "good enough".  Maybe somewhere along the line, the word "professional" started to mean "unless you're the best, you're not going to survive."

Back in 2000-2002, when I started out designing print media and websites, my work wasn't very artistic. Some of it wasn't really all that eye catching, and I'm sure the code/programming behind each site wasn't perfect in the least. I didn't have a college degree, and I wasn't "approved" by any organization. But my customers still paid me. They still loved that I was available to do the work. I was providing them with a website that served a purpose. It filled a need. Many of my customers referred me to new customers, and my clientele began to grow. With this growth, I learned more, got better with my designs, and made more customers happy.

Somewhere along the line, between our parents telling us that college was the only way to get a good job, and society expecting absolute perfection to the point of being "certified" for every single job and task on the planet -- somewhere, we lost our way. We began believing that this earth is perfect. We began believing that a service isn't a service unless it first passes the judgement of the government, the associations, and the school board. Somewhere along the way, we stopped being independent and thinking for ourselves. We also forgot how to have fun with what we do. Somewhere we stopped putting the customer first, and instead would rather rely on the expectations of people who aren't even paying us, even though the customer may quite often want something altogether different than what society "recommends."

It is my hope that we can get back to individual creativity, create our own standards of excellence, and stop comparing ourselves one with another. We're living in a connected world, so it's hard not to compare. But if we would take the time to occasionally disconnect, we would see that there are plenty of great customers in our own back yard who will absolutely adore our services, no matter where we were are in our professional journeys.

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