Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Joys of Being an Amateur

We often hear and read about how to become an expert, a guru, a specialist, etc. But no one ever talks about how to be an amateur. Maybe because the word 'amateur' makes us think of someone who is inexperienced, unskilled, unprofessional so there is nothing appealing in becoming one.  

When I heard the NPR radio podcast titled 'Amateur Hour', it intrigued me. This podcast/video cast is all about speakers sharing their stories of 'plunging - or being plunged into new situations and emerging as experts'. The focus of the conversation is all about jumping in and figuring it out.

But the real reason that the idea of being an amateur fascinates me is all about what the word actually means. The word amateur is derived from the French word, amateur, meaning “lover of" and from Latin amatorem nom. amator, meaning "lover". So, to be an amateur means to love what you do. And that's how I want to feel about everything I want to do. I want to be in love with what I am doing! 

I really enjoyed listening to all the speakers but Taylor Wilson - 21 years old applied nuclear physicist - the most 'amateur' of them all, shared the real deal about why it is good to be an amateur. He said, “I think that, you know, people who have, you know, spent their professional careers in a field sometimes get bent to those preconceptions or the way things are done. And I think that young people don't necessarily develop those preconceptions, and so they just go out and do. And, you know, I didn't really know that, you know, this wasn't the way things were done, or, I wasn't convinced this is the way they should be done."

As an amateur, we don't have too many preconceptions and biases because we don't know any better. But when we become seasoned professionals and experts, sometimes we set limitations to our own mind. This morning, in a different podcast on how to find work you love, the speaker, Scott Dinsmore said, "Everything is impossible until someone else does it." And I truly believe we are what we think. Our imagination and limitless thinking can take us anywhere we want to be. So, I want to think like an amateur and let go of my preconceptions about what's possible and what's not. 

I don't know about you but when I am trying to learn something new, something challenging, something I haven't done before, I have a different type of energy and passion towards learning, experimentation and failure. Every failure fuels my determination. I also find myself striving for smaller successes along the way and enjoying these accomplishments instead of waiting to celebrate the achievement of the final goal. 

As an amateur, I try and surround myself with people who know and do what I am trying to learn to do. And all that good company is inspiring and transformational. When I am in the company of people who are better at what I am trying to do, I am not concerned about the final outcome as much as the process of learning. I just want to absorb like a sponge. 

I find that my entire perspective and mindset as an amateur is very different from when I am wearing the 'expert' cap. As an expert, I am preoccupied with the thoughts of expectations, targets, success and failure. Someone is always looking up to me for workable ideas and proven solutions and I am way more critical of myself. But as an amateur, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so my mind is free; to make mistakes and learn from them. 

But don't get me wrong. Experts have a huge place in this world and there is much to learn from their mindset. Besides, if there are no experts, who will the amateurs learn from! (If you get a chance, do read my post on what makes you an expert for a synthesis of different ideas about expertise.) But what I truly appreciate is the eagerness and the dare devil attitude of an amateur. 

Yes, there are special joys of being an amateur. But if you are an expert, just try and think like an amateur before you tackle the next challenge to see if it makes any difference. I think it will. 
Edmond Hillary should know. He was very articulate in saying: "I think the really good mountaineer is the man with the technical ability of the professional and with the enthusiasm and freshness of approach of the amateur."