Last week, I attended an informal get-together for psychologists to meet people with other professional backgrounds. It got me thinking about our professions, and how we feel about them. This gathering included mid-career practising psychologists, interns, coaches, business development executives, and university professors. One networking attendee joined an amicable circle I was part of, and introduced himself as on various boards, and with specific qualifications (which largely went over my head). In response we gave short summaries of our backgrounds, with mine covering financial services, people development, and mentioning (given the specific purpose of the get-together) that I’m not a psychologist. He immediately interrupted with “you shouldn’t be embarrassed about it”, to which I replied that I’m not. He felt that my body language said otherwise, to which others in the group indicated disagreement. The woman to my right sighed, leaned over to me, and said “there’s nothing wrong with your body language...”. It made me chuckle: a debate on body language at a gathering of psychologists…
This experience reminded me that we can be proud of our professions and qualifications, even to the extent that we rush to defend them if we perceive someone saying something negative about them… Our professions can be deeply ingrained into who we are, partly because of the significant personal effort and time commitment it took us to qualify, partly because of the status they might afford us, and partly because of the sense of community / connection they can provide us.
Generally professions include lawyers, engineers, medical professionals, actuaries, accountants, architects, economists, and psychologists, among others. ‘Professions’ tend to have a number of similarities:
The most well-known of the codes of ethics is the Hippocratic oath. Mostly, codes of ethics cover elements such as competence, integrity, and the promotion of the public good within the specific expert domain.
In my international work experience, I’ve found that different cultures can have different perspectives on the professions, with some viewing them as highly aspirational. Those cultures tend to view education as a privilege, and respect the effort and commitment required to become a professional. Others view professions more cynically, especially where past bad apples have tarnished its image by association. And, preconceptions of given professions can be limiting, appearing for example as the basis for jokes e.g. shark lawyers, introverted accountants and actuaries, or non-committal economists.
Preconceptions and stereotypes can sometimes discourage us from speaking freely about our backgrounds and accomplishments. One of the senior leaders in a business I previously worked in always introduced the members of my wider team as ‘actuaries’ even if they were actually from a legal or investment banking background (and she knew this). An expert in choosing her words to create specific impressions, she was encouraging others to apply their preconceptions and stereotypes. I suspect it was because she headed a different area, and wanted to emphasise how ‘technical’ the product team were, while she wanted her team to be seen as market-focused, commercial and extroverted. My personal preference is to see the individual, rather than the label, and consider the person as a combination of formative events and experiences. In my view, what someone chose to study is but one part.
It is a privilege to be a professional (especially given their rich history of thought leadership and social contribution), and I very much enjoy attending events that my professional bodies arrange. The variety of disciplines and thus career paths is also positive, with many opportunities to learn different things within them.
As sage parental advice conveys, a profession does indeed give you “something to fall back on”. Looking back on it, I’m glad that I chose that path, while also recognising now that it shouldn’t limit who we are and what we can do. And, some of the most inspirational people I’ve worked with changed direction by building outwards from their professional roots.
To what extent does your chosen profession contribute to your sense of identity? What aspects of your profession are you most proud of? And, what one thing would you change if you could?