Monday, November 17, 2008

Professionals and Amateurs

When I say professional, I don't mean doctors and lawyers, those of 'the professions'. I mean the Professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur. Consider the differences. Here is what Pressfields 'The War of Art' states:

The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it's his vocation. The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.

The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning 'to love.' The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his 'real' vocation.

The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time. All of us are pros in one area: our jobs. We get a paycheck. We work for money. We are professionals. Here are the principles:
- we show up everyday
- we show up no matter what
- we stay on the job all day
- we are committed over the long haul
- the stakes for us are high and real
- we accept renumeration for our labour
- we master the technique of our job
- we receive praise and blame from the real world

Now consider the amateur and how he pursues his calling:
- he doesn't show up everyday
- he doesn't show up no matter what
- he doesn't stay on the job all day
- he is not in it for the long haul
- the stakes are illusions and fake
- he does not get money
- has not mastered technique because no work is committed to
- he does expose his work to the real world, only support groups, friends or family

Nothing is as empowering as real-world validation, even if it's for failure. Someone asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. "I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp."

That's a professional. Maugham was saying a deeper truth: that by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting the work on time, he set in motion a sequence of events that produced a result. He knew if he built it and did the work, the Muse would come.

Unfortunately, we are in the time of the amateur in my profession. Below is a satirical report from The Onion. Funny as it is, this satire works because it is based on a truth.

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