In putting together our newest online program, Falling in Love with Writing, one of the topics my friend Steve Chandler and I explored together was what I call becoming an “amateur professional”.
In order to make sense of that phrase, let me first distinguish what it is to be an amateur and what it is to be a professional…
Amateurs do what they do, at least in spirit, for the love of the game. The word itself comes from the French, and can be literally translated as “lover of”.
According to Wikipedia, the amateur was historically considered to be “the ideal balance between pure intent, open mind and the interest or passion for a subject.
While in modern times we mostly associate the word “amateur” with athletics, some famous amateurs from the past who made a huge contribution to the world as we know it today include Francis Bacon, Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin, R. Buckminster Fuller, Guglielmo Marconi, Gregor Mendel, and Sir Isaac Newton.
Putting aside the connotations of an amateur as someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing, a true amateur does what they do not as a means to an end but for its own sake. At its best, the spirit of amateurism is what gets people to put in the hours irrespective of personal gain and regardless of how much else they have on their plate.
In the early days of my coaching, I would spend my days talking to pretty much anyone who wanted help over a cup of coffee. I spent so much time “coffee-cup coaching” that my local café had a booth unofficially reserved for me and whoever happened to be next in line for a caffeine-fueled exploration of their lives.
I also spent hundreds of hours reading about every aspect of personal growth, business development, and spirituality, not to learn anything specific or even useful but rather because I found the topic so damn interesting. I wound up working in two bookshops, one mystical and one psychological, mostly because they gave me bigger discounts and easier access to more books.
By way of contrast, the word “professional” has evolved from the Middle English, Anglo-French, and Latin words for professing one’s skills and vowing to perform the highest possible standard.
While the word is often used to connote being paid for what you do, in spirit “being professional” points to doing what needs to be done to the best of your ability simply because it’s your job, regardless of whether or not you want to or how you happen to be feeling about it in any given moment.
I grew up in a family where that kind of professionalism was just normal, so it was a bit of a shock to me when I began to work in the “real world” and discovered that showing up on time and doing what you say you would was a competitive advantage.
But it was also a household where both my parents absolutely loved their professions. My dad was a mechanical engineer whose long hours at the office were fueled as much by the love of designing and building solutions as the need to keep the lights on and his employees gainfully employed. And while my mom was a high school chemistry teacher for much of the time I lived at home, her love of science and childhood desire of being the next Marie Curie infused her classes with a kind of enthusiasm that turned a traditionally dry subject with genuine interest and enjoyment.
Similarly, in my work with clients I find that the ones who rise to the top of their fields are those that represent the highest ideals of both the professional and the amateur – reliable and highly skilled but with an infectious love, enthusiasm, and fascination for what they do.
This is the heart of what it is to be an “amateur professional” – to love what you do so much that you would do it for nothing, but deliver on your promises to such a high standard that you often wind up being paid far more than your industry norm.
Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!
With all my love,