For the love of the thing- in praise of true amateurs


For the love of the thing- in praise of true amateurs

I’ve often heard people speak in a derogatory tone about amateurs, and I come across many who find it an insult to be termed an amateur.

My Oxford Handy Dictionary defined amateur as someone who does something only as a pastime, as an unpaid participant and often the word carries connotations of the unskilled and inept. “Bloody amateurs!” is a cry you may hear.

But this word has an etymology that belies its modern usage. It is derived from the Latin amator, meaning a lover.

Does that give you pause? It should. Until relatively modern times professional athletes were banned from competing in the Olympic games. The original(edited for clarity: by this I mean the original reborn games, not the first Greek ones) games had an outright ban on all pro athletes, those who earned their living from their sports, and therefore only gentlemen who competed for the love of the games were eligible to enter.

We’ve come to associate the term Professional with all kinds of other positive epithets, taking it as read that if someone earns their living at something it means they must be good at it and they often are. But what about those who give up their free time to pursue something that is unlikely to earn them anything? Surely someone who does it for the love of it is going to put heart and soul into it, and not merely that mythical “enough”? All those amateur stargazers, inventors, artists, musicians, writers, poets, scientists, and so one who are denigrated as “amateurs” by those who deem themselves professionals, where do they fit in to the grand scheme of things? Do we have a place in the world? (I include myself as an amateur, because while I do earn a small amount from my work, I do not earn my living that way. I am not ashamed of this, of being an amateur. I stand among great people who were also amatuers in their time too) 

Of course we do. Some of the greatest discoveries and some of the greatest art and music have been made by people who were not professionals, but more than that, why should the receipt of a wage be the marker of the worth of a person or their creations? Is it not feasible that money is NOT the true measure of the value of a person and their work?

The Egyptian Book of the Dead mentions the weighing of the human heart as a means of determining the quality of someone’s soul. Money is not mentioned anywhere and considering the heart was weighed against a feather, the lighter the better as far as the Egyptian after life is concerned.

To do something for the sheer love of it is surely a way to the lightest heart possible.


4 thoughts on “For the love of the thing- in praise of true amateurs

  1. I am not ashamed either of being an amateur. I earn nothing from doing what I love, at least not yet but I carry on doing it because it makes my heart sing..

  2. Lovely post Viv and a nice reminder about feeling proud, heads held high, to be amateurs. I like the reference to the Egyptian Book of the Dead and the heavy heart light as a feather. Many thanks!

  3. A lovely post indeed. Thanks a lot for sharing your ideas with us. They provide a lot of food for thought.

    I’ve always believed that “professional” is a rather stretchable and vague term. Although I do earn my living, to some extent, by doing what I love, I cannot call myself a professional. Whatever it is, there will always be more and more to learn and to accomplish in the sphere one deals in. And I think you are absolutely right that “professionalism” seems to carry that association with giving “enough” for others to regard you as professional. Whoever is in love with the thing, they will give more than enough.


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