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Part 2 -- The Internal Distinction

In Part 1, the meaning of “professional” was shown to vary from true believer to false prophet, and was explained as having three parts: discretionary risk (your programs’ safety-to-excitement ratio), customer knowledge (the “magic” behind your programs’ success) and customer valuation (the amount of investment in your programs and career, and your customers’ recognition and appreciation of that investment).

The conclusion was that it’s the customers who externally bestow the title “professional” on only those people who--in their discriminating opinion--actually deserve it. But, is the customers’ judgment in these matters always right?

In Part 2, the internal distinction--both organizational and personal--between an occupation and a profession will be explored. As shown in Figure 1, a profession has to do with a combination of skills, hierarchical position within the organization and, in the final analysis, the characteristics of responsibility, dedication and authenticity already introduced in Part 1.

A Job Is What You Do

Figure 1 begins with the job of Activity Facilitator. Traditionally, this position is part-time, seasonal, and offers no benefits, such as pensions or hospitalization, but employee advantages include flexibility in the number of hours worked, free time during the off-season and relief from having to worry about stressful organizational or operational matters.

Although an Activity Facilitator is expected to do a good job (and generally does), basically one is being asked only to perform specific tasks (technical skills), and get along with people (human relations skills); conceptual skills needed are few and the level of responsibility is low. A Facilitator is not defined by the job; it’s what one does for a living, not the meaning of one’s life.

Important to note, however, is that this group comprises only a small portion of Figure 1, and an Activity Facilitator also can be a professional. For example, many parks and recreation managers began their careers on the front lines as high school or college students facilitating summer programs part-time, and then worked their way up in subsequent years.

A Profession Is Who You Are

The middle of Figure 1 is devoted to the people identified internally as “professional staff”: Supervisors, Bureaucrats and Managers (Edginton, et al., 2004). Typically, these employees are full-time and receive a variety of benefits. Their technical skills are narrower, although in a specialized or focused way, and are balanced by enhanced conceptual skills. They have increased involvement with organizational or operational matters, and must have the ability to see the larger picture.

Professional in this context refers to the level of responsibility and the amount of training and experience required to fulfill employment expectations. In this sense, this internal organizational status may be matched by external customer perception of risk, knowledge and valuation, but not necessarily; the point was raised in Part 1 that an all-too-common public attitude is that “anyone can do” recreation jobs at any level.

Nevertheless, these professionals tend to be more dedicated and career-oriented. They have begun to realize that being involved with the parks and recreation field holds meaning for them beyond a paycheck, and that they derive as much satisfaction from service as the people whom they serve do from participating in programs. Parks and recreation is no longer what they do, it is who they are.

This brings us to the uppermost level in Figure 1, the elusive and overused term, “Leader.” If we have moved from the external perception of customers in Part 1 to the internal organizational status outlined above, then when we reach leadership, the trend ends inside the individual: self-perception and authenticity.

A Calling Is What You Profess

One school of thought states that, in order to lead others, you first must lead yourself. This requires a high level of conceptual ability that begins with a well-defined personal philosophy based on unshakeable values and beliefs. Not only does this philosophy guide every decision, it requires you to “walk the walk,” in other words, to publicly “profess” your beliefs through authentic word and action.

This personal transformation also changes a profession into a calling. No longer are you simply a competent manager, but you become an advocate involved at the state, regional and national levels. You travel to conventions to present workshops and participate on committees setting policy. You research issues of interest and importance, and write reports and articles for publication in newsletters and journals. You preach the good word about creating meaningful lives through parks and recreation to all who will listen, and make your life meaningful as a result.

So how does all this fit together? Figure 2 shows the progression from “job” to “calling” as a diagonal line balancing our customers’ external evaluation with our organization’s internal status. In addition, the four quadrants identify additional possibilities that occur as a result of imbalances. Thus we see the “false prophets” who publicly claim legitimacy for themselves that is not recognized by other professionals, although the public may award these prophets “celebrity” status.

For example, the professional wrestlers mentioned in Part 1 certainly are being paid (as opposed to unpaid amateurs), and receive adulation from certain portions of the public. At the same time, the Olympic wrestling community is well aware that the “professional” wrestling matches are staged for entertainment purposes, and are not true athletic contests.

In contrast are the “unsung heroes,” those ultimate professionals who are called on (or step up) to organize national conventions, undertake major fundraising campaigns, and participate in all the essential behind-the-scenes initiatives that ensure that missions are fulfilled and visions achieved. They have earned high respect from their peers, but receive little public acclaim or recognition from the eventual beneficiaries of their efforts: the customers.

So How Professional Are You, Anyway?

Back in the 1950s, when factory owners were trying to find ways to make employees more productive, researchers discovered that many workers were not truly invested in their duties, and viewed work only as a means to some other non-work end (money, vacation, etc.). Those employees chose particular occupations based on “convenience” or compatibility with their outside goals, and although they completed their work competently, no amount of motivation would raise their performance level. They put in their time, collected their pay, and went elsewhere to find fulfillment.

In contrast, those professionals who are called find a balance between nurturing their labor of love while at the same time raising awareness among the people being served, thereby garnering legitimate respect and recognition from all concerned. It’s not bragging if it’s true, and high profile, responsible, dedicated, authentic individuals also draw positive attention to their professions in general. LeBron James brings this to basketball, as Maria Sharapova does to tennis.

Figure 2, then, becomes your “gut-check.” If you find yourself arriving at work already making after-work plans, some soul-searching may be in order. If you continually are the workhorse who receives little recognition, note that the benefits-based strategy gives you permission to publicize your actual achievements. On the other hand, if you are all talk and no walk, understand that your credibility is at stake, and frauds eventually are exposed.

A job is what you do, a profession is who you are, and a calling is what you profess. Most organizations are composed of a mix of these three, and recognizing where you and your fellows fall along this continuum clarifies current organizational conditions while identifying professional potential.

Kim Uhlik is Assistant Professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at San Jose State University, where he coordinates the Leadership and Administration emphasis. He can be reached via e-mail at

Work cited:

Edginton, C.R., et al. Leisure programming: A service-centered and benefits approach. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

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