Hobbyist or professional? True professionals dedicate their lives to being the best in the world at whatever they do—not some day, but today—every day. Not try, do.
I have played guitar almost every day for almost forty years. I play a variety of styles, have performed for paying audiences, know a good selection of jazz standards and other tunes by heart, and could write a book on the great players and the history of guitar music across a variety of styles. I know how great instruments are built and what goes into selecting and shaping various types of woods. My phone ring-tone is a phrase from a guitar solo recorded by the great Django Reinhardt in 1939. I love the guitar, and I take my practice seriously …
But I’m a hobbyist. A true professional would be better at reading music; play a larger collection of memorized tunes; and would never rush or drag, no matter how exciting or slow-and-sexy the music got. True professionals perform, practice, read, study, teach, listen, or attend live music events every day. True professionals engage in the performance of and the business of music full-time. I’m a pretty good musician—but “the good is the enemy of the great.” Professionals dedicate their lives to being the best in the world—not some day, but today—every day. Not try, do.
Public speaking is a big part of my professional life, and stagecraft is an important element of public speaking, so I attended a workshop by Tom Todoroff, who runs an acting conservatory in New York. Tom works with the stage performers to help them bridge the gap between acting out and acting. He talks about auditions and the acting business. He watches the stage through an imaginary camera, as if he were seated in the audience, and from the director’s chair. He talks about the great playwrights from Shakespeare to Chekhov and Ibsen, and has attended over 4,000(!) plays. He is committed to his craft. If he’s not sleeping, he’s acting, coaching, studying, or watching other actors. His goal is to be the best in the world—not some day, but today—every day. Not try, do. Tom Todoroff is a true professional.
Life hardly lasts long enough to get good at anything. It’s not enough to practice scales or memorize lines. Professionals act.
As a speaker and storyteller, I read every book on storytelling I can find. I’m writing a third book on my topic. I’ve edited almost thirty books by other authors, wading deep into their words to finesse their narratives. I attend workshops and I study the business of speaking and storytelling from stagecraft to marketing strategies to knowing how to be there for meeting planners so they can worry about other, less reliable people. I’m an active, engaged member of the National Speakers Association and the Florida Speakers Association. I attend Toastmasters meetings where I coach newcomers and listen to feedback from people who aren’t professional speakers—listeners who are very much like the people in my audiences. I compete in speaking and speech evaluation contests, and have built relationships with other professional speakers who encourage me, and find my skills and ideas valuable to them. Not a day goes by where I’m not engaged in at least one conversation about how to help someone—me, a colleague, or a client—advance in the craft and the business. My goal is to be the best in the world—not some day, but today—every day. Not try, do.
Being a hobbyist is more than just okay. I love playing music and will continue to enjoy getting better on the guitar, and playing with others. When there’s an opportunity to perform for an audience, I’ll do my best to shine. I can be a pretty good—even an excellent—guitarist, but I don’t have to be a professional. I don’t want that pressure.
True professionalism happens at a different level. When it comes to storytelling, my goal is to be the best in the world—not some day, but today—every day. Not try, do. Some of my colleagues have decades more experience than I have. I won’t win every contest. Some speakers get more bookings and charge higher fees than I do. But there is no judge of who gets to be the final arbiter of who’s on-top. Professionalism—success—is a journey, not a destination. My goal is to be the best in the world—not some day, but today—every day. Not try, do. And if I fall short, that will be part of my path to succeeding tomorrow.
Your qualifications, experience, or the fact that someone pays you for doing what you do isn’t enough to make you a true professional. Own your topic. Know the history and the literature. Find other professionals in your field and make yourself valuable to them. Join the organizations and associations that serve your colleagues, and get active and involved. Be the best in the world—not some day, but today—every day. Not try, do. That’s how professionals work.