How I Learned to Be a Professional

It's hard to know what excellence looks like until you see it in action.

Humans learn by imitation. Just watch a child imitate the behaviour of those they see around them.

As adults, we like to think we’re more advanced. In reality, we’re simply better at hiding it.

My summer job in university taught me to be a professional.

That job was working for the Canadian Coast Guard in their Inshore Rescue Boat Program.

We worked May to September in regions around the Maritimes, providing search and rescue services.

Coast Guard employees manage the program, but those working the stations are all students.

Many have little on-water experience when they start. Others have a background in lifeguarding, or outdoors work, but little experience in boats.

I was one of the few that did, but the transformation that takes place in the first few weeks is impressive.

Training camp in your first year is three weeks long.

During camp, you get trained on the skills you need to perform the job. Boat handling, communication, rescue techniques.

After that, it’s an apprenticeship. You spend the summer with other students who have been in the program before, often for several years.

Most of the skills come with practice. Those get developed during training in the summer with your crew.

But training camp teaches you the skill of being a professional.

Showing up late isn’t tolerated.

You’re expected to perform to high standards on both written and practical exams.

You get called out for making mistakes, and have to correct them if you want to finish camp.

Checklists get used often, and are expected to be followed.

Drilling new skills happens for hours on end, day after day.

Long workdays are part of the experience, and you’re expected to perform regardless.

There are concrete skills that you take out of training camp. New knowledge too.

But the lasting benefits are the habits of a professional.

Showing up on time.

Following procedure.

Drilling and practicing the skills that you may not use but are expected to have ready.

Effective and efficient communication.

Those skills are transferrable to whatever job you’re performing.

Those are the skills that separate professionals from amateurs.