I heard someone mention once that the root of the word ‘amateur’ is ‘amare’ — love. He said he wanted to reclaim the word from its negative connotation and use it to describe people who love their work. What a pretty little thought.
He’s right that the English language doesn’t have an adequate word for those capable of infusing love into their work. Words like professional, expert, authority, or pundit do nothing to capture the rapturous state a true amateur works within. Lucky is the soul that can experience such a way of being. In these moments, time slows and we lose ourselves to curiosity, fascination, and playfulness.
In these spaces, the best of what it means to be human unfolds.
Yet, being able to work through love seems like a luxury for the privileged, not us regular folk operating in the trenches of everyday employment. Surviving these spaces requires less feeling, not more.
To hold our ground we’ve got to stay ahead of the ever increasing demands on our time. Do more with less, or so they say. So many would be eager to replace us – people who don’t need to find fulfillment through their work, people willing to accept what’s on offer, happy to have any job at all.
In this light, the choice is clear- staking our territory requires we put away our tender hearts and step onto the battlefield.
Today, heartbroken souls are reminded of their loss day in, day out. Taunted by competing discourses, we sit suspended between contradictory messages encouraging us to follow our passions while reminding us that passions don’t pay. Unable to embrace work we love as a viable choice, we settle for what’s practical and take up a ‘real job’.
Sitting in our cubicles, the longing to come alive through our work fades against the backdrop of an overloaded inbox.
Most of us call this “adulthood” and to be a proper adult, we should be able to answer the question ‘what do you do’ with some sort of succinct and serious response.
I am an accountant. I am a sales rep. I am a manager. I am a professional.
Adults, we are told, must contend with the world around them and that world tells us we’ve got to pay our dues. Do your time in the system, earn your place, prove your value, then you can do what you want — you know, change things from the inside. Unfortunately, as the years pass us by, we learn that each professional achievement only reveals a whole new set of asses to kiss in a forever unfolding pyramid scheme.
After all, a title, especially a professional one, is not something we grant ourselves — it’s something we earn after passing through a number of socially constructed testing grounds.
Our school systems, organizations, regulators, and labour markets collude to create impossible mazes of human categorization. We are sorted, one from the next, by our degrees, credentials and references, each enhancing our ability to walk among the gatekeepers.
Do your time and you too can take part in erecting the next set of barriers for future generations to tackle.
Indeed, our titles are badges of honour. They are also our uniforms.
It seems suiting then that the stem of the word professional is “profess” – to publicly declare one’s faith in or allegiance to a set of beliefs. To be a professional is to serve and uphold a pre-established set of values and goals and by doing so, become one with them.
Some find such an arrangement fulfilling -without a doubt there is comfort in being selected and deep security in belonging.
But what joy is professional success if success is only defined by someone else’s standards?
What good is arriving at the goal only to realize you’ve left yourself behind?
We’ve got to be careful when seeking work we love in a world so unresponsive to such an act. If we are honest with ourselves, we can see that the labour market is much more conducive to finding frightened and desperate brides for perverted and powerful narcissists, than it is to creating mutually beneficial unions between respectful equals.
Perhaps it’s time we loyal wives stop numbing ourselves to our own lack of fulfillment, hoping one day everything will just sort itself out.
Are we still cognizant of the fact that labour markets and organizations are not entities unto themselves?
They are not living, breathing, thinking, or feeling creatures, rather, they are solely the consequence of humans coming together.
If all these humans who come together each day, acting together, producing together, accomplishing together, if all these living, breathing, thinking, and feeling creatures relinquish themselves for the sake of the system, it’s no wonder we can’t figure out how to create organizations and economies capable of bringing out the best in us.
Which brings us back to the amateur- to be an amateur means not waiting for permission to participate.
It means not looking for approval from others before diving in. It means creating before someone tells you what to create. It means losing yourself to the process so that a fuller self can be discovered, a ‘Self’ propelled by heart-fuelled action, not by the mandates of faceless executives.
Imagine an office tower full of people acting out of the centre of their hearts or a production line operated by people discovering themselves through their craft. I bet you the labour of their love would not be faulty mortgage backed securities capable of destroying national economies.
Perhaps amateurism is rebellion – a romantic rebellion against a feeling-less world created by humans starved of humanity.
Amateurs exist beyond all the shoulds and musts, flourishing within uncertainty, tinkering their way towards achievement.
It’s through such fumbling in the dark that their abilities unfold, and through that unfolding, they come to know what they are capable of – that we come to know what we are capable of.