There is a big difference between "professionals" — that is, people who are so darn good at what they do that people pay them to do it — and "professionalism" — which often goes hand-in-hand with fake smiles, politics, passive aggression, and a bunch of hoops designed to keep management busy and creative minds distracted.
As a business owner, I prefer working with those capable of doing amazing work and judge people by their actions, not by their wardrobe, vocabulary, or habits.
Some of the most despicable people I have ever met have stellar HR records and lack-lustre portfolios.
Some of the kindest, most talented people I've worked with are covered in tattoos and reek of cannabis.
Most of the people I relate to or look up to say "fuck" and they don't apologize for it.
Some of the best work I have ever delivered came at a time when I was un-showered and disheveled — because inspiration sometimes comes when you're packing up your campground or picking up after your dog.
I've met millionaire agency owners who pose for magazines, speak at events, and are featured in the media as industry revolutionists, but who are absolutely despised by their entire team and unable to do anything other than take credit for others' work.
I've met unemployed or minimum wage workers who have talent that surpasses some of the highest paid creatives working today, and I've walked away from projects that include "respected" industry leaders that I know for a fact are just awful human beings wrapped in a thick veil of "professionalism".
Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting there aren't advantages to treating the workplace and those in it with respect and consideration, and certain shared rules allow for consistency and trust to abound. I am merely stating that being a professional does not require most of us to adhere to outdated definitions.
To me there are only two aspects of professionalism that need to be understood and respected by all:
1) Integrity - Be who you say you are and deliver what you say you will to the best of your ability with no ulterior motives or hidden agendas. Honesty and clear intention drive everything you do.
2) Communication - Whenever something happens that potentially or directly influences those around you, proactive communication that seeks to resolve issues rather than place blame is used to ensure everyone remains aware and confident.
As someone who has worked with countless clients and addressed every win, loss, challenge, and change as they come I can tell you that the only thing clients care about is having someone they can trust to do a good job and tell them the truth.
If professionalism is truly about competence (and Webster's suggests it is), then things like tattoos, piercings, language, recreational drug of choice, facial hair, and dress code have absolutely nothing to do with it.
And don't even get me started on the people who try to police what we post on LinkedIn...
If you agree that candour and competence is all that's required to offer professional services, then I encourage you to reach out and discover how simple and successful working with true professionals can be.