I have been told, by my boss, on several occasions that I need to move from “amateur to professional” or I will need to “pursue work in other places.” I have only been here for three months and I am fresh out of college. I thought I was being a professional. I am on time, cordial and get assignments done, but he tells me I need too much direction and I need to think more on my own. In your opinion, what is the difference between an amateur and a professional?

You do certainly have some of the basic parts of being a professional down. Punctuality, proper disposition and completion of assignments are all part in parcel of being a professional. Your boss is, however, highlighting areas of professionalism that are more abstract and tend to be the gold that make professions worth their salaries. A few alterations in your behavior might settle the situation.

For the record, it should be stated that the terms professional and amateur are being used in this article and by your boss in a connotative sense. Many amateurs own the professional traits I am about to list, while many professionals never mature past amateur conduct.

In my experience, there are three differences that distinguish amateurs from professionals. The first difference is that professionals can distinguish the difference between excuses and reasons, whereas amateurs cannot. In other words, professionals generally look for reasons to overcome challenges and solve problems, but amateurs use excuses to get out of hard work and commitments. An amateur says, “I can’t work harder because I’m tired,” but a professional says, within reason, “I’m tired, but I will work anyway.” As a result, a professional obviously needs less supervision and direction.

The second distinction is that professionals ask “solution-oriented” questions in order to solve problems. By contrast, amateurs pose “complaint-oriented” questions. For example, a professional will ask, “How can we get this done?” which leads to a series of questions and eventually brings about a resolution. Amateurs, on the other hand, often state, “Why do we have to do this?” or “Whose fault is this?” Amateur questions bring down morale and reduce commitment. Therefore, the situation creates a greater need for amateurs to be directed.

The last point of distinction is closely related to the first point regarding excuses versus reasons but is distinct enough to be categorized separately. The point is that professionals try to choose “and-both” outcomes, but amateurs choose “either-or” scenarios. For example, an amateur believes he has to choose between becoming a top performing salesperson and having a quality family life. He automatically pits two “goods” at opposition. A professional, instead, sets out to be a great family man and a top performer. Certainly there are diametrically opposing outcomes that can’t be reconciled, but many opportunities are passed by amateurs who come up with excuses and then build false moral cases to support their pretext. A leader who sees through excuses is forced to spend a lot of time educating and training an amateur to see things through a more optimistic lens.

St. Augustine reminds us to “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” That advice is the best way to make these changes come alive.

Catholic business consultant Dave Durand is online at DaveDurand.com.