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Professionalism, or how not to be an idiot at work

When I started teaching Graphic Design at The Art Institute of Phoenix, I knew that it was important for me help to show my students "how not to be idiots at work". Of course, you really can't say, "today I am going to show you some techniques on how not to be an idiot at work".

Being an idiot at work is the number one reason why so many people fail, in spite of everything else they have, including talent. And, speaking for myself, I learned how not to be an idiot at work in my early twenties, so I feel that I can speak from experience.

I called this "professionalism". And here they are:

• Show up. Show up for class, show up for work. A surprisingly high percentage of people either never make it to class, or work. And I'm not talking about people who are dealing with emergencies, I am talking about people who are just plain oblivious. Learn to tell time, learn to find out what day it is. Believe me, the person who shows up for the job that you forgot to show up for will get it. Even if they're not nearly as talented as you.

• Work on assignment. If you can't get the directions right, or if you just refuse to, you really aren't gonna be much good at a job. If someone is paying you, they have something in mind. Learn to figure out what it is, then do it. I would say that this held back over three-quarter of the students I taught in beginning classes. I would ask for a drawing of a duck, they would do a drawing of a penguin. It might be the world's greatest drawing of a penguin, but it's not a duck. That's an F. Or, in the work world, you're fired. Really? A penguin?

Actually, as a teacher, I very rarely gave Fs for getting the assignment wrong. If I could find the student, they would get a chance to try again.

• Show respect for the people around you. Your co-workers, and the people you work for, deserve more from you than a nasty attitude from you. I'm not suggesting that you become ridiculously cheerful, but it would be nice if you didn't wear the shirt that says, "I hate everyone!"

And that's how it goes. If you're a grownup, these recommendations sound silly and condescending. If you're a child, it's what you need to work on. And I have known 19-year-old grownups and 40-year-old children. I'm sorry that I had to include this in the classes, but it was nice to see the grownups emerge. And the children, sad to say, wandered off.

By the way, I attended every graduation ceremony for the years I taught at AIPX. It was not required by teachers, but I always went. And for the students who showed up, worked on assignment, and showed respect for the people around them, it was a wonderful time.