About 10-15 years ago, the idea of Pro-Ams, emerged. Pro-Ams are essentially amateurs who pursue an avocation with such diligence it was difficult to discern them from people who employed the same skills as a vocation based on degree of knowledge and practical execution.
Since that time there has been some occasional effort to clarify the distinction. Partially, I think there has been concern that sub-par products and services by amateurs not be mistaken as representative of the ideal by those having little familiarity with those products and services.
Most of the attempts to define the distinction have fallen short. The economic definition about professionals being paid and amateurs doing it for the love was problematic even decades prior to the Pro-Am term emerging. Using years of formal training or experience practicing the skills as a measure also falls short.
In both cases, you can find notable exceptions to the rule you don’t dare include in one category or the other lest you insult or overpraise. It also doesn’t take much before elitism and condescension creeps into the process.
In looking for a link about Pro-Ams for a post I did last week, I came across a piece on Medium that offers a definition of the differences that doesn’t involve any of the aforementioned criteria. It doesn’t answer the concerns about sub-par work, but I can attest from recent experience that there are companies with long history, great amounts of experience in their craft and millions in receipts each year who are managing to provide sub-par experiences and products without amateurs serving as poor examples.
Jeff Goins’ Medium piece, The 7 Differences Between Professionals and Amateurs, depends more on internal motivation than external definitions of achievement to draw his distinction.
Even if it wasn’t already highlighted, the following would probably naturally jump out at you:
If you want to be a pro in your field, you’re going to have to break this terrible amateur habit of looking at what people have without paying attention to what they did to get it. Chasing the results without understanding the process will lead to short-lived success, if not outright failure.
I have touched on this idea before. Even though the phrase “success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration,” is well known to the point of cliche, everyone has this idea that success is the result of a rare element – genius, talent, lucky big break – rather than developed as a process. Yes, natural ability often factors in, but people often believe that there is an easy recipe for results rather than the requirement of effort.
Among his seven differences are the following.
1. Amateurs wait for clarity. Pros take action.
You have to know what you are before you can figure out what you want to do.
In my case, I spent too long waiting for someone to call me a writer before I was willing to act like one. Now I’ve learned that clarity comes with action. We must perform our way into professionalism. We must first call ourselves what we want to become, and then get to the work of mastery.
2. Amateurs want to arrive. Pros want to get better.
You have to become a student long before you get to be a master.
For the longest time, I just wanted to be recognized for my genius. It wasn’t until I started putting myself around teachers and around the teaching of true masters that I realized how little I knew and how much I still had to grow as a writer.
3. Amateurs practice as much as they have to. Pros never stop.
You have to practice even, maybe especially, when it hurts.
It’s not enough to show up and work every day. You have to keep challenging yourself, keep pushing yourself beyond your limits. This is how we grow.
6. Amateurs build a skill. Pros build a portfolio.
You must master more than one skill.
This doesn’t mean you have to be a jack of all trades, but you must become a master of some. For example, all the professional writers I know are good at more than one thing. One is a great publicist. Another is really smart at leadership. Another is a fantastic speaker.
For creative professionals, this doesn’t mean you have to work at your craft uninterrupted for eight hours a day — at least not for most professionals. It means you will spend your time getting your work out there through a variety of channels and mediums, or that you’ll work for part of the day and master something else with the rest of your time.
I don’t know that this is the final word on amateurs vs. professionals, but I feel it is a constructive line of thought to pursue, if only because it get away from the practice of judging the worthiness of others.
Perhaps one benefit of these criteria is that you can be a professional at some pursuit, move to amateur status as other things draw your attention (perhaps a focus on professional status in another endeavor), and return to professional status later in life when you decide to rededicate yourself to it.
In this way, one need not sigh regretfully at once having been a “professional” with no hope of returning to that status because you have fallen out of synch with the latest philosophies, techniques and knowledge. Yes, regaining technical expertise later may be a challenge, but if professionals take the long view toward knowledge acquisition, that mindset puts you halfway there and may have kept you from falling too far behind in the interim.
Thoughts? Have you come across other definitions that are better in whole or in part?