There are many myths that persist in society, some that are helpful and others that limit personal growth and success.
My aim is to debunk all of those myths that stop people from achieving their full potential.
One of those myths is the myth of professionalism.
The myth of professionalism
We have professionals for good reason.
It helps to regulate industries that care for people and provide a specialist service. Professions ensure that practitioners are fairly compensated for their hard work and training, maintains standards, and ensures there is a system through which people can access the services they need.
When the myth of professionalism comes into play is in making people believe that they’re unable to understand a particular topic or idea because they’re not a ‘professional’.
It spreads ignorance and misunderstanding by shrouding a field in mystique.
This is because people don’t make a distinction between the ‘entry level’ of a topic and being a brilliant scholar on the subject.
Why you can understand anything
Take, for example, economics.
We have professional brokers and accountants for good reason, because these industries can become very complex, and in order to navigate through them effectively, you probably need someone with expertise and experience to help you.
It depends what level you’re playing at.
In some ways, having the concept of ‘professionals’ creates an imbalance of power because it tricks the layperson into believing that economics inhabits some mysterious layer of reality that normal people are not privy to.
But it’s not because professionals are taught some mysterious secret in law school, medical school, or their computer science degree – it’s because they are taught the complexities of the systems, which are human-made.
The value of knowledge
This also creates a degree of increased value, if knowledge and expertise is perceived to be very hard to obtain.
If ‘normal’ people believe they can’t understand financial markets, but they need to do so, they will pay handsomely for someone to help them – especially if there are not that many ‘professionals’ in the market.
This perceived barrier to knowledge couldn’t be further from the truth.
Human beings have created our financial systems. Financial value is based on investor’s perceptions of what something is worth. Anyone can understand money and how to play the system to their advantage.
It all depends on how much time you want to devote to something.
The same applies to technology.
We don’t have professional ‘technologists’ in the same way that we have lawyers, doctors and accountants, but we have professions such as software developers, engineers, product developers, and all sorts of other roles in this industry.
While some people undoubtedly have years of experience and expertise under their belt, anyone can understand the basics of what they do.
There is no separate reality that these people inhabit – despite class, gender or ethnicity – that in any way demands particularly unobtainable levels of intelligence or brainpower.
What they have often had is privileged access to resources and what sociologists would call ‘cultural capital’.
Equality of access
People who are born into privilege have better access to elite spheres of knowledge, since wealth means they can afford a far higher standard of primary and secondary education (private versus state schooling), attend university in far greater numbers, and are part of existing networks of professionals.
They are brought up to believe it is their natural heritage to enter to elite professional spheres.
People on the ‘outside’ often believe that they’re excluded, or are financially restricted from accessing the education they need.
One way that the myth of professionalism is created is through use of language, using obscure or technical terms that exclude others.
Language provides important frameworks for reality, but we must be conscious of avoiding jargon as we progress in our careers, by remaining conscious and empathetic.
I find myself slipping at times, even though I pride myself on refusing to use jargon. It just happens when you’re immersed in a subject, drinking it in day in, day out, and you forget that other people haven’t learnt the same words as you.
The goal is to widen access to knowledge, and many people and organisations are already doing just that.
It’s especially important for women to have role models, as they’re much more inclined to put themselves down. We assume we won’t understand something – because of cultural messages we’ve been receiving over a lifetime.
How to lower the barriers
What I would like to see more professionals doing, especially in the tech industry, is breaking down exactly how they got to where they are. They need to share tips for how more people can get past entry level – by far the most competitive level in specialised industries.
For example, Martin Lewis, of Money Saving Expert, teaches people how to manage their finances in a way that is useful and easy to understand. He is providing access to the financial world that would seem out of reach for many.
Code First: Girls and many other non-profit groups provide access to technology by teaching coding for free. Some people criticise this approach, saying it’s not all about ‘coding’, but I think that entirely misses the point.
It’s about improving access, dispelling ignorance and empowering the average person to learn about topics they previously believed were off-limits.
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