Amateur: one who does something out of love, yes? But not a romantic lover, not an amoureux . . . correct?
Also, a term of contempt. “That was strictly amateur hour.” Picture some tough-guy movie or cop show in which the studly hero and his partner kick the ass of some guys who think they’re bad. After they run them off, one says to the other, “A bunch of amateurs.” We showed those losers.
Amateur is the opposite of professional, which in turn means what? You really know how. You are inducted into the secrets of the trade, you’re in the guild. Professional means you’re serious and are to be taken seriously. Amateur means you’re a dilettante, a lightweight. Amateur means you’re kidding yourself about who and what you are. Amateur means you’re a wannabe. Professional: you’ve paid your dues, you went through whatever it takes, you’ve been battle-tested, you got kicked around some but it made you stronger. You are under no illusions, you take no crap.
Professionals get paid; amateurs don’t.
Everyone knows there are a few things that should not be professional: love, for example. (The root meaning of “amateur” lives on.) Is there another example? Yes, parenthood. There are nannies, but that form of love, as well as the sexual, is not supposed to be a profession.
You want respect, you call yourself professional at whatever you do, you call whatever you do a profession. Profession: from the verb profess, meaning proclaim, as in a profession of faith. To declare publicly one’s belief. What one professes, then, becomes a badge of identity, of honor. First question after you learn someone’s name: What do you do? In response you profess: plumbing and heating, law, software architecture, teach sixth grade. I’m a cop, I’m a writer, I’m the help desk guy, I drive a taxi, I bring up my kids. Oops, out of bounds, category error – parenthood is not a profession. If I say “What do you do?” and you say “I bring up my kids,” you may well mean you’re just as good as I am and you’re not going to take any crap about it.
Back to the action: you profess your what-I-do as your who-I-am.
Ho hum, we all know that.
If we say something is “unprofessional,” it means disgraceful, unethical, transgressive, out of bounds. Or just plain stupid. It means poor judgment. It means that all the rest of us, who apply the word to that one slinking past us over there, are entitled to feel superior, to heap scorn, to point and say: outsider, unclean, we are smarter and better people who would never do that.
Thank God I didn’t slip and do that.
Thank God I didn’t get caught.
If amateur is the opposite of professional, list the qualities of the amateur:
Doesn’t follow the rules.
Doesn’t get paid.
Not willing to do what it really takes.
Shows poor judgment.
Not to be taken seriously.
Hasn’t earned respect of others.
Now turn them inside out. Doesn’t follow rules, respect boundaries? Free to be creative. Doesn’t get paid? Not a slave to the marketplace. Self-deceived, self-indulgent? The amateur believes in herself, has inner strength. Hasn’t earned others’ respect? The amateur respects herself. Not to be taken seriously? The amateur isn’t worrying about what other people think. Not willing to do what it really takes? Is smart enough to know there’s a different route to a different goal. Shows poor judgment? The amateur takes the risks without which a paradigm shift can never occur.