What is your profession?

Cause for Complaint

I have had cause, recently, to excogitate what constitutes a true ‘profession’.  This cause of mine was instigated by what I consider to be a widespread hijacking of the term within our society.  And we’re not just talking semantics here; it’s not only the meaning of the term that is being misused, but also the spirit of it as well.  I really would go as far as to call it an insult.


Consider, for example, a snooker player.  I pick on snooker for this example only because the 2014 World Championship series happens to be in play at the moment so it is at the forefront of my mind.  I do love a good snooker match.
I was watching the Championship earlier this evening, and the commentator remarked that “Trump” (one of the players) was at the very peak of his profession.

I almost spat out my tea.

Does snooker really qualify as a profession? Seriously? I beg to differ! But let’s check out my trusty Oxford English before we go any further with this argument.  There are three definitions for the word in my dictionary, but the only one that applies to us is the first – as follows:

“1. A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.”

Well, Judd Trump ticks the first box for sure – he earns a healthy living playing snooker, and I’m almost certainly safe to presume that his pay packet (in terms of match win earnings) dwarfs my annual salary as an electronics engineer.  I go to work and solve problems for a living, contributing directly to the betterment of our society, and Judd hits some balls around a table.  Can you begin to see what I think is wrong with this picture?

Even though Judd ticks the first box, I still don’t think he qualifies.  Not by a long shot (sorry, I had to slip that in there).  After all, everyone has a paid occupation.  But you wouldn’t call every paid occupation a profession, would you?


Let’s imagine we were shipwrecked on a desert island, a thousand miles from civilisation.  Nobody knows where we are.  A self-proclaimed leader of the pack gathers us together and asks us, one at a time, “What is your profession?”

“I’m an Engineer”, I say.  “I solve problems for a living.  And see that smashed radio over there? I reckon I might be able to do something with it.  Maybe send a call for help.”

Fantastic! Who else?

“I’m a Nurse”, someone else claims proudly.  “I save lives for a living.  I care for people.  I can help that poor girl with a broken leg, and I can stop the wound from becoming infected.”

Brilliant! Our plight is diminished in your presence!

“I’m a builder”, says another volunteer.  “I create for a living.  I can build us shelter – protect us from the sun, and keep us safe from predators.  I will turn this barren land into a temporary home.”

Excellent – please get to work right away and you will have whatever support you need!

“I’m a snooker player”, says a useless contributor.  “I hit balls around a table for a living.  I’m the best in my field.  I’m the World number one.”

Useless job = no profession

In the case of this Snooker Player, he is worse than useless.  Worse, in this context, because now the rest of the group are going to have to feed him, home him, and protect him.  They are going to share their very limited resources with a member of the group who is incapable of bringing any tangible benefit to their table.
Perhaps he can contribute to someone else’s input – become a labour man for the builder, for example – and in so doing he will at least spare himself the shame of becoming a net-loss to the group’s plight; a negative draw on their micro-society.

So what does constitute a profession?

Quite simply, I think a profession has to be something that contributes directly to society.  That includes the builder who makes a career out of creating.  It doesn’t include the labourer who carries the bricks, because the labourer is only an indirect contributor to what the builder already brings to the table.
It’s the same with our snooker player, or football player, or formula 1 driver.  We are fortunate, within our developed society, that we can afford the resources to create entire occupations around the entertainment business.  Thanks to our rich society people who enjoy these activities are afforded the opportunity to choose it as their occupation, and rightly or wrongly some of the luckier ones earn a fortune in the process.  Earning a fortune is their right, but calling their job a profession is not.

Go and find something useful to do with your life.  Something that contributes positively and directly to our society.  Then I will say you have a profession.  Until then, all you’re doing is hitting balls around a table for ridiculous amounts of money.

…but I’m not bitter!



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