One Sure Sign You’re a Professional

Last weekend, I spoke at a conference, and everything went wrong.

Professional Photo
Photo credit: Victor1558 (Creative Commons)

I brought the wrong video adapter for my computer, had poor lighting (which prevented people from seeing me), and didn’t have a microphone for the first part of my talk. I felt embarrassed, discouraged, and frustrated.

I had something wonderful prepared, and the audience didn’t get to see it. I powered through the speech, and then hightailed it to the parking lot. Afterwards, my wife texted me, asking how it went. I told her, “It sucked.”

The rest of the day I wondered if I’d ever be a real speaker, someone who didn’t have to deal with petty issues like technical difficulties. That is, until I talked to a couple of professionals.

Join the crowd

I have a few friends who speak for a living. After my epic failure, I texted a couple of them. Hoping for some encouragement, I told them I just had “the worst speaking gig ever.” I wanted to hear this part goes away, that such embarrassment is reserved only for beginners.

But what happened next shocked me:

  • One friend who speaks for auditoriums full of thousands of people every night said, “Ugh. Me, too.”
  • Another who has been speaking for years told me, “I had one of those earlier this week. I wanted to quit!”

And all of a sudden, a thought came to mind: If the pros are having the same problems I’m having, what does that say about me?

Maybe I wasn’t as much of a failure as I thought. Maybe having a mishap once in a while — a technical snafu, an unresponsive audience, a critic in the crowd — is a sure sign you’re “in the game.”

The work of a professional

When it comes to your craft, you have to realize something: Every day can’t be amazing. Some shows will be more dazzling than others. Some audiences will love you, while others only seem to tolerate you. What comes next, though, is what’s important.

Despite the struggle, the work of a professional continues. You get knocked down and get back up. Dust yourself off and keep going. This is what distinguishes the pros from the amateurs. The serious artist knows this.

Every talk you give, every word you write, every product you make occurs in less than ideal circumstances. Still, you find a way to push through. To hover over the chaos and create. You hope for excellence, but sometimes finishing is enough.

“Real artists ship,” Mr. Jobs once told us. Some days, that’s all you can do.

Can you relate?

We live our lives subjected to forces that impede us. From reaching our goals to achieving peace, we are all frustrated in our attempts to find perfection. The smart person, however, sees an opportunity in the frustration.

Art is not perfect; it never was supposed to be. Art is what happens when you extract something true and good from the mess of life. When life comes from death, beauty from ashes.

So, if you’re feeling resisted — like the whole world is against you — maybe it means you haven’t failed. Maybe it means you’re actually in the game, as opposed to standing on the sidelines. Maybe it means you’re more of a professional than you realize.

When’s the last time something went tragically wrong for you? How did you respond? Share in the comments.