What Do You Profess?

November 19, 2021

What Do You Profess?

May 29, 2023

I’m a professor of experience-based learning and career education at a large public university. AKA professional development. Most of my students have been shepherded through the K-12 experience.

Now they’re enrolled in college in order to take the courses and obtain the credentials that (hopefully) lead toward full-time employment post-graduation. It’s what’s expected of them, and they generally follow the rules.

The university administration tells me my job is to impart career readiness to each budding young professional in my classroom. Resume, check. Interview preparation, check. But to be honest, those are my least favorite parts of the job. I haven’t figured out how to avoid these necessary evils but if I could, I would.

Now when peers ask what I do for a living I respond, “I help students identify what they’re good at and what they really care about.”

Years ago, as a graduate student, I walked into a seminar where the topic had something to do with career path exploration. It seemed safe to assume that we’d chat about the market value of graduate school and what we could “do with it in the real world.” We might explore the current job market or identify common professional pipelines that run from my current seat to one in which I’d get paid.

Instead, in a fateful and philosophical twist, the instructor posed an unexpected question to the class: “What is it that you profess?”

You see, the word profession originates from the Latin profiteri, meaning to declare publicly.

Our job title is not our profession. It’s a classification attempt at best.

The way in which we live and work, how we invest 8-10 hours of each day, are reflections of the values we’re sending out into the world around us. We are professing something, intentionally or not.

So I often ask myself, what is it that I’m professing each time I walk into the office, login to a VPN from home, teach a course, or converse with a potential client?

What are the principles and ideals I want to emulate and see more of in the world?

What values am I displaying to my family, friends, and neighbors?

What is the unique contribution my work is making toward the common good?

What is it that I’m offering in order to form a more perfect union or a more just society?

Sadly, the meaning of professionalism has in many ways been hijacked, commodified, and monetized. It’s been reduced to what we do to pay the bills.

What if we ask ourselves right now, what is it that I want to profess through my work, words, and actions?

Decide. What will be your profession?

Brodie Theis teaches career development courses, is committed to elevating efforts that contribute to the common good, and is learning to be more present. He's grateful to have recently participated in MEA's 8-week online course to navigate midlife transitions.

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