Here's a concept that needs to be revisited from time to time, just to keep it freshly in mind. It's something that you've probably heard dozens of times from guys like Chase Jarvis and Casey Neistat, or any of the other inspiring creators in the industry. Something that should honestly be just common sense at this point, but sadly needs to be put out there far too often. So let me put it out again plainly, and in no uncertain terms: Just because you have a profession doesn't make you a professional.
It's a hard reality that I have to call myself out on at many points when I'm tempted to be lazy, to cut corners, to not put in the work and put out the product that I'm capable of. If there's one thing I'm fortunate for above all else in this industry it's that I've been lucky enough to have peers who hold me to account. I have friends, fellow professionals and supervisors, who have no issues with calling me out when I'm not giving my best.
Unfortunately it's far too easy to drop the standards ball, as in many cases quality is not a requirement for photography. That's a good thing as far as I'm concerned, because if it were then nobody would ever be able to break into the industry. We need a measure of acceptably poor product to keep feeding those of us who are in the learning/developing stages of the game.
But it's not them I'm writing this to, they have their own path to forge. It's those of us in positions like mine. Some of us, myself included, have job security; and this is a place where I find it really gets interesting and (sadly) also disappointing. The military affords me a position that for all intents and purposes would continue to pay me regularly and provide me benefits until retirement if I should continue. It would be easy, and even tempting, to simply do the bare minimum. People like me could easily check the boxes, punch the card, and go home.
Here's the thing though, that's not professional. Job security should never be exploited as an excuse to drop your standards. Just because there may not be the threat of direct consequences doesn't mean you shouldn't do everything in your power to make every project your absolute best. If you're fortunate enough to be bringing in a steady income in a field where even some of the best in the world struggle to find stability, then earn it. Attack your projects as if your job depends upon it. As if every person who would love to have what you have is a legitimate threat to your security. Otherwise you're doing our field a disservice by teaching others that professionals don't have to be professional at all.
As Sal Cincotta put it, "Professionalism for photographers isn't just about charging money for photos; it's about the brand that you build and the service you provide." In a position with job security your brand is many times the name of your office or employer, and the service is very much measured in quality. When you put out something that you know to your core is not to the highest caliber that you're capable of that should bother you; if for no other reason than for the simple fact that your work reflects more than just you, but your office, and the field of professional photographers in general.
That goes beyond just first impressions. Your name, both personally and as an organization, will always be reflected in the consistency of your quality. That isn't to mean that you need to be hitting home runs every time you're at bat, but you should at least be giving your all, not throwing the game so you can get home and simply exist, reveling in the mediocrity. In many instances your work will be the first thing that people see, your work ethic will define what we all are, and to that end we all have to count on each other to carry the torch.