Keys to Finding Your Professional Identity

Each morning when I arrive at work, sit down in my office, and I start my computer I see the phrase “Be mindful even if your mind is full.” Usually, I am perplexed by the number of items on my list for the day or the number of meetings, but I know I have to continue to show respect, compassion, and intentionality. For me, the priority is students on a college campus seeking their sense of belonging outside of the classroom. A question my colleagues and I have discussed is, how can you show up in your career fully yourself, not your title, and be professional?

Being a professional in any career field or vocational area comes with its own set of successes, failures, and moment of insightful learning and growth. Navigating a new work environment, meeting new people, and learning a new place and city/town is a part of how our professional identity is shaped. There are three key strategies and reminders I have learned about being professional in the workplace. To me, they are the quintessential parts of comprising and learning more about who you are as a professional human.

Ground yourself in the experience even when times get tough. I share this thought with you first because I believe it’s one where individuals learn who they truly are as a professional. With all the parts of our jobs, the responsibilities and roles we are to act upon, there are and will be times where it would simply be better just to leave. Thankfully, we know these feelings about leaving can subside quickly if we just brave the storm we are facing. When you are facing times of trouble as a professional, write and reflect on what you are feeling, why you are feeling that way, and what you can do to assist in resolving it. It can be quite draining to plant your feet and stay when a difficulty occurs, but I believe this is where we define for ourselves and others our courage. In these situations, let vulnerability be your guide; you should let it show up in the form of courage. Let people know, respectfully, how you are feeling or what you are seeing and hearing. It is easy to leave a situation or role as a professional, but it is in our best interests as professional to ground ourselves in those moments to learn, grow, and mature.

Let people see the real, authentic you from day one. I said to my supervisor the other day, “Sometimes I feel like I am showing up as Kevin more than I am as the Associate Director, and I am 100% starting to realize that is okay!” I rely on being myself, Kevin, not my title in the work I do as a professional. Professionalism that is authentic is effective in the workplace. This kind of professionalism is the foundation of our relationship building with individuals and teams. You should ask yourself some of these questions about how you can show up as your one, true self and remain professional.

  1. What one value is important to me in the workplace and how do I use this value in my words and actions daily?
  2. What amount of personal information am I willing to share with colleagues and what are my boundaries?
  3. After my time in the professional role I am serving in comes to an end, how would I want people to describe me as a person and professional?

Lead teams and individuals from behind-the-scenes. This might come as shocking news, but we should never believe that we as professionals are the center of attention. In fact, I believe professionalism is selfless. While you must take care of yourself as a professional, we must also show a level of care, compassion, and general interest in other’s professional growth. As supervisors and teammates in schools, businesses, industries, and institutions, how can you put others before you and learn to coach and affirm people from the sidelines? Professionalism is about knowing when to lead through an experience or responsibility and knowing when to coach and let someone learn through leading. Professionally, I find it easier to be my authentic self when I am coaching others through learning experiences. Individuals and teams who have this adopted as a part of their culture often times are comprised of selfless professionals. Be the reason somebody has an answer to a job interview question in the future.

As I am writing this, I have written down three new things for my to do list for the day, thought about a difficult conversation I need to have with someone, and realized I forgot my coffee at home. Yes, our minds are full of differing energies (positive and negative), but we still need to show up as professionals to lead, coach, and be courageous.