“That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.” ~Charlie Chaplin
I know what you’re thinking. An amateur? No, I want to be an expert, a respected master of my trade, right? I want people to flock to my cause, follow my leadership, drink at the well of my know-how.
But think about it: Who wakes up early every morning to train harder than anyone else? Who pushes themselves to become what they dream of becoming? Who tries anything and everything in an attempt to get a foot in the door, to be afforded an opportunity, a chance to show what they got?
An amateur is a person on the way up, a person working to do what they have not yet been recognized for doing. It is a person who gives their dreams everything they have and everything they are. And in the process, they break new ground and forge new paths and discover new territory.
The spirit of the amateur must be embraced by every expert who wants to remain relevant. It is the spirit of the amateur that breaks through old patterns and crashes through old boundaries and creates new markets for new products that don’t even exist today.
It is the new kid on the block that tries things differently, sees things uniquely, approaches things from a perspective the experts say won’t work … until the new way becomes the proven way that new “experts” claim is the only way.
The Spirit of the Amateur
The spirit of the amateur is the spirit of the student. It is the humble pursuer of excellence. The amateur recognizes the distance between where they currently are and where they want to be.
Amateurs are hungry in their reach as they learn the steps that others have discovered and develop the habits that others have developed.
Amateurs are excited, open, passionate, curious and refreshingly experimental.
The Spirit of the Expert
The spirit of the expert, on the other hand, is the spirit of the teacher. They have already arrived. They are the calcified epitomes of excellence.
Those with the spirit of the expert are often those who most need to prop up their own expertise with walls of framed honors and degrees from lofty institutions with important sounding titles.
There is nothing wrong with such accolades in and of themselves, of course, except that the attitudinal expert fears being seen as the student, of admitting weaknesses and blind spots and ignorance.
“What, you’re an expert and don’t know that?” is the nightmare that scares them most.
The spirit of the experts is set in stone, a granite semblance of the excellence of yesterday.
By contrast, the amateur is wide-eyed about the path he takes on his way to wherever success awaits. He looks for clues, hidden gems of possibility. He seeks and pushes and explores, looking for what he does not yet know.
The amateur is filled with more questions than answers, sees more starting lines than finish lines, spends more time climbing mountains than enjoying the view from atop those already climbed.
Where the expert is the teacher, the amateur is the student–humble, curious, searching, discovering, driven by the passion of the explorer, the pioneer, the blazer of new trails, and inventor of new possibilities.
The expert defends his throne. The amateur never sits long enough to bother with a throne.
In the process, amateurs often discover more than the experts think they “know.” They innovate and break new ground and open new paths and frontiers and potentials. They stumble onto new plains because they didn’t yet know the expert advice to stay clear of such unfruitful dead-ends.
The Public Pursuit
It’s important to understand that the amateur is no less dedicated to excellence than the expert. It’s just that the amateur is dedicated to the public pursuit of it.
They are open with the process, inviting input as they reach higher, trying what hasn’t been tried, adapting what they discover to what they are working to accomplish.
They are willing to learn in front of other eyes, critical eyes, judgmental eyes, hungry eyes looking to take what they see work in someone else’s life before trying it in their own.
Amateurs are social laboratories of possibility, unbound by the shackles of convention or what has already been proven in the lab, peer reviewed and stamped by other experts as fully baked, completed, done.
The expert knows. The amateur is learning. The expert has discovered. The amateur is exploring. The expert disseminates. The amateur shares. The expert instructs. The amateur invites others to correct, critique and improve what is being slowly revealed.
The expert takes pride in his accomplishments. The amateur is humble in her pursuit.
The Fear of the “Nonexpert”
Too many passionate people wait too long before getting started. They have been convinced that they can add nothing of value to others without the credential, without the degree, without some institution or organization or board of this, that or the other professional identity stamping their work with their official imprimatur before putting their ideas online or in print or on the airwaves or up in a gallery, or on a stage.
They worry they will be found out, exposed as charlatans, fakes, pretended experts with incompetent expertise, unable to answer a question or address a concern with confidence, with mastery, with what the professionals behind expensive desks would have said or done.
Claim Nothing–Show Everything
Fine. Proclaim no expertise. Instead, position yourself as a regular Joe, just a fellow traveler dedicated to discovering the path, willing to experiment with life, to explore, to see what works. Then invite others to come watch you figure it all out on your way to your own expertise.
Don’t lead with, “This is what thou shalt do…” Instead, lead with, “Wow, that’s a hard one. Watch me try it this way…”
Those who need what you offer (validation, a real-life example, a living how-to manual, those who want authenticity over pomposity, sincerity over ego, humility over arrogance and approachability over an ivory tower of expertise), will find you and follow you and thank you for your honesty and openness.
Embrace Your Inner Amateur
There is nothing wrong with being an expert in a given field. But it is tragic to lose the spirit of the amateur by adopting the calcifying spirit of the expert.
So embrace the spirit of the amateur–even if you have degrees and other bona fides from respected expert-filled institutions. If you’ve been perched atop a mountain for a while, climb down and start looking for new mountains to climb.
Then feed your creative hunger for excellence and allow others to peer into your climb, your development, your pursuit, your exploration–with all its public stumbles, pratfalls, wrong turns, missteps and outright face plants.
Allow others to watch you figure it out.
Let them come along for the ride as you learn what parts of the lesson were hard and what parts were counter-intuitive and what parts needed tweaking. Offer like-minded pursuers a front-row seat to the process of exploring the field of excellence in whatever aspect of life you pursue it.
The Liberation of Authenticity
It can be dissettling to embrace your inner amateur. We all want the respect of our peers, after all. We want the esteem and prestige expertise invites.
But embracing your inner amateur is profoundly liberating.
It frees you to experiment publicly without having to protect your professional reputation or pretend to know more than you know or have answers to questions you have not even thought to ask yet.
The crazy thing is that it won’t be long before others start asking for your advice.
Just be sure to remember your amateur standard of excellence as you not only point the way you’ve gone, but also point the way you’re going to try going tomorrow.
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