What Makes a "Professional"?

I recently had a discussion with a close friend of mine about what it means to be a professional. My friend is a professional musician in every sense of the word; he has gigs every weekend all over New England and owns a local store that sells musical equipment and offers private lessons on various instruments. I, on the other hand, am not a professional musician. My interests in music are purely recreational and when I do earn money for my services, it is minimal. My friend disagreed with me and insisted that I am in fact, a professional musician because of my “professionality” and talent level. But what is it exactly that makes someone a professional? What makes a field of work a “profession”?

Ironically, I came across an article shortly thereafter written for adviserperspectives.com. The author of this article was making the argument that financial advising is not a profession. He cited the widely accepted definition of profession as “any type of work, especially one that needs a high level of education or a particular skill”. He argued that because a high school dropout can become a financial advisor (which technically is true) the area of work does not meet the definition. I wonder if the author would then rule out my friend being a professional musician? After all, he has no formal education. Then again, most business owners do not have a formal education either. If someone owns a very successful business, we don’t refer to him or her as a professional business person, do we?

The author of this opinion piece does make a very good point: you should be very careful when choosing a financial advisor. Not all advisors are created equally. For example: a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™ certificant is required to have at least a bachelors degree; he or she cannot be a high school dropout. This type of requirement might give us a hint as to what exactly makes something a profession. Organizations like the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards put forth requirements of their members to maintain a degree of integrity within their community of professionals. The American Medical Association could be thought of as a similar governing body for doctors. There is no such organization in music, or art. So, while someone can be a professional musician, it does not make music a profession. Music or art is too subjective to be a profession. It cannot be conformed into a code of ethics or made subject to a set of rules. It is by its nature used to break rules and challenge standards.