What’s the mark of a professional?
As I’ve pondered the question and begun to look more deeply for the sign of professionalism, it seems to me that what really sets a true pro apart from the crowd is not only the ability but the willingness to produce and publish work that matters in spite of fear, circumstance, and adversity.
The professional has made a deal: she understands that the long-term price of leaving her talents buried is likely to be far higher than the price of engaging with the market.
(This does not mean that all things — still less all art — must circulate in the money economy. It means that the professional has accepted the emotional cost of showing her finished work to the world: she understands that finished is a long way from perfect, that work that matters doesn’t work for everyone, and that not all the work that matters works on the first or fifth or 10th try.)
It’s a simple standard, but certainly not an easy one. It’s not one I meet all the time. (Like the work itself, the journey of turning pro is never truly done.)
The stepping stones, though, are even simpler: first, to know and claim one’s talents. Second, to determine the marks of professionalism that matter — and why. And, third, to determine, day after day, to strive for them as much as possible.