What does it mean to be a professional? Most people will instantly have a mental image in response to this question as the word is heavily invested with meaning. In the Oxford dictionary it is defined as “a person who does a job that needs special training and a high level of education.”
It is well known that the dream to become a professional footballer is one that many children have. It is also known that this dream is not easy to achieve. Evidence suggests that out of the many children who enter academies at the age of nine, less than one percent will make it as a professional footballer at any level. As the exclusivism of the team increases so does the access. In Premier League football, just 180 children of the 1.5 million who play organised youth football at any one time will go onto a career in football. That’s just 0.012 percent.
The level of difficulty to enter certain desirable professions seems to be the same as becoming a professional footballer, a doctor, an architect, a lawyer, Michelin-starred chef or perhaps even an organisation consultant, but what happens to the mental image in the mind of the person who achieved this goal? What changes – if any – take place in their identity? How do we marry professionalism with individual identity?
The focus of this Lunchtime Talk was considering how we might explore these questions. For doctors or teachers, a lot of consideration has been given to the process and formation of a professional identity, however this is not the case for many other professions, even though the difficulty of the journey remains the same. Organisations are not always accepting of differences; therefore, the question how much does the new doctor, teacher or consultant have to change in order to be accepted into their desired profession? What can be kept and what is lost or given up?