What it Means to be an Amateur
Photo courtesy of Alex Bellink.

What it Means to be an Amateur

Written by Emilie

Topics: Creativity

There’s nothing like a peaceful lake with the airy sounds of recorder music, and long conversations with your mom, to bring out your pensive side.

Before leaving for music camp, someone on Twitter asked me what I would be learning there. It struck me as an odd question, and I actually had to think about it for a second. I’ve been to Cammac many many times, so I knew I’d be learning something. I would get professional instruction in all my courses: chamber music, choir, Broadway. It would definitely help me enhance my musical skills.

But there was something about that answer that didn’t feel right, or complete. It didn’t get to the true value that I would be getting out of the week.

The value of this place, isn’t in developing your skills or coming closer to reaching Mastery. The value is in the act of playing music with other musicians for no purpose, other than that you love it. And although this is harder to quantify or explain than “skill development,” that doesn’t make it any less important.

In our specialist-centric, skill-obsessed culture, the word “amateur” gets a bad rap. However, if we all just embraced the word, in it’s root sense and stopped worrying so much about becoming experts, I believe that the world would be a much brighter, more creative place. Let me explain…

Your Turn

What are you an amateur at? (Feel free to list multiple things.)


  1. Vicky says:


    I really enjoy watching you talk on video! You are so passionate and really knowledgeable about what you preach! You go girl! I am an amateur at a MULTIPLE things. I created my own website to save some $, I am not an expert, but taught myself and definitely a newbie, but hey! I have a website! lol

    Another thing is that I am an amateur entrepreneur. I have quite a ways to go to probably call myself an entrepreneur. lol But I am SO passionate about it! I know it’s getting me somewhere :)

    Thank you for your video, it made me feel so much better!!

    Have an awesome day!!!


    • Emilie says:

      Hi Vicky,

      You really are an amateur entrepreneur! Lol and I mean that in its true sense. SO passionate! That passion will definitely lead to action and eventual success. I see it. :)

      xo Emilie

  2. Love your insights!

    I’m an amateur at poetry, fiction writing, spiritual study/counseling. I love them all!

  3. Lori Stalter says:

    I’m an amateur lifelong student! I feel happiest when I’m learning. Without learning, I can’t continue to grow. Learning exposes me to new challenges, takes me on new journeys and brings new people into my life. I’m an amateur at forming new relationships. Yeah!

    Great video, Emilie!

  4. Hannah Stephenson says:


    Your video explanation of the word amateur is the perfect compliment to this post! The element of passion is the single most important thing and is what makes amateurs so valuable to our culture. It is our passion and excitement for things that cultivate communities and maintain healthy discourse in differnt fields. I know that I am an amateur Musician, Athlete , Baker, Designer, Makeup artist,Teacher and Coach and knowing that I can grow these communities by being able to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for these things among friends and family and even strangers means I would much rather be an amateur than a Pro!

    • Emilie says:

      “It is our passion and excitement for things that cultivate communities and maintain healthy discourse in different fields.”

      That was beautifully put, Hannah. I bet you’re really inspiring to others when pursuing your passions too.

  5. kim says:

    I absolutely love this post. I completely agree that “amateur” should have to be a negative word. I love learning new things, and that feeling I get when I’m learning.

    I couldn’t list all of my amatuer skills lol. I have so many hobbies, of course. But one really sticks out to me right now- singing. In a general sense, I suck at it. I’d never get a record deal. But I absolutely love it. I love singing along to songs I know (in fact, if I don’t know the song, I listen to it over and over until I learn it.) I love learning the words and catching onto a phrase or meaning that I’m sure most people miss when just “listening”. But of course this is singing along to a song. Take away the music and it’s not pretty! But I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t care. I do what makes me happy. :)

    • Emilie says:

      Amazing! I love your example, Kim. It’s so simple, so pure. And hell, I bet you kick ass at karaoke! Talk about a place where success is entirely determined by passion, not skill.

      Rock on!

      • kim says:

        Yeah, I’m gonna have to actually try karaoke one of these days (too shy as a kid, and now…. well places that offer karaoke, don’t usually end up on my list of places I go lol). Will have to see about this. (cue evil, maniacal eyebrows)

  6. Joshua says:

    I agree, Kim & Emilie, and a lot of the times when I read the word ‘amateur’ I also match it with the words ‘indie’ and ‘lo-fi’ in my brain, which is what the 90’s indie music scene was all about, and totally had an influence on my life / my creative process.

    The thing I’ve noticed is that once you’ve become really/pretty GOOD at something (dare I say ‘mastered’) it’s hard to go back to that amatuer sound & that passion. Pro skills can be a crutch, and just boring!

    This is TOTALLY evident when you listen to passionate indiepop music (Tullycraft, Metronome, Beat Happening, etc.) that sounds like it was recorded on a fisher price microphone. It’s bare bones, but it’s strong because there is that desire to communicate a message.

    I feel like this knowledge, that you don’t have to ‘Go Pro’ all the time, that the passion is the biggest part, is what keeps me going. It’s also what makes me cringe when I read Steven Pressfield talking about his view of Pro’s vs. Amateurs.

    I think he needs a new word, because even though he totally knows what he’s talking about (Resistance and ‘the muse’ and all), he couldn’t discredit what amateurs have done for the world (the current existence of the word “indie” as a genre being a case in point.)

    • Emilie says:

      Josh, this is really interesting. You’re right, too much training can absolutely be a crutch! It can make us adhere to the “rules” instead of coming at it with an open mind, experimenting and being more creative. It’s part of the reason that I have a hard time playing anything other than classical music on my violin. Too much training. But on any other instrument, it’s no problem.

      Re: Pressfield, I hadn’t thought of that. I like him, but you’re right. That terminology is really problematic.

      • Joshua says:

        Emilie, thanks for responding! (And thanks for inspiring me to write my own thing about amateur mentality & indie music…saving that for my own posts)

        I also wanted to add that I think you blended the text post with the video post format perfectly this time.

        I actually didn’t watch the video the first time I came to this post (was listening to a podcast), but since the title of your article and short passage said so much I still had something to comment on! Smart : )

  7. Erica says:

    I love that, “What are you excited about” rather that “What do you do?” The list of things I’m excited about is so much bigger than what I do, and it gives me the option to talk about things that don’t give me a steady paycheck, or even one at all (probably what most people expect for an answer)!

    I am an amateur at SQL database management, programming, photography, and website development. To other writers and dancers, I’m also an amateur writer and dancer. I love being an amateur, though, because it’s okay to acknowledge that you have more to learn. I love it when people share new ideas and skills with me. I think professionals and experts start feeling like they can’t say “Hey, I’ve never seen that before; can you tell me more about it?” because they’re expected to stay on top of the game.

    • Emilie says:

      Beautiful! It sounds like you’d fit in really well in the Puttytribe, Erica. You should think about joining next time we open the doors. We do these member-led workshops where Puttypeep teach other Puttypeep something they’re passionate about. The workshops end up being super varied and amazing.

      Awesome array of passions you’ve got. :)

  8. Jonathan says:

    I can not play a LICK of music, barely keep rhythm & do well to clap to beat. Funny you’d would use music jamming in this topic because I have friend by the name of Cassandra who created an event called Circle Jam where people show up & play music. For the LOVE of playing music. I became an unofficial person documenting these events. The last one was on August 12 & I made a track of the uncut dirty audio, that’s the way we want it to sound, to sound cloud. Since you’re passionate about that may you can find joy in it. http://snd.sc/O9GBWO

    I find my passion in media & content. Social media, video, writing, audio, music, people, travel, exploration, technology, God, TV, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Kickstarter, & on the hyper local level my community I live in how to provide a good service to them. Yes, a lot, I think most of it is actually in my mind but I’m find myself applying much of my time to all of it & sometime burning the candle at both ends. Always fun.

    • Emilie says:

      Beautiful, Jonathan. You’re definitely passionate. I can tell. Bet you’re really inspiring to your ‘peep’ too. :)

      • Jonathan says:

        I’m working on the inspiration part, it doesn’t translate well. People don’t look deep enough to see it yet. I’m pretty certain you’re adept enough to pick up on it though due to my continued & almost endless networking with people who take a slightly more unconventional view of things which is something I can add to the list being passionate about. I have a late start in this ball game, but I’m working on catching up to find those successful means my friend.

  9. LynzM says:

    Thank you for this. Had an ego-challenging musical experience this week and this was just what I needed to hear… I may not be the best, the most talented, the most experienced, but I am a Lover of music for absolute sure! :D

  10. elsa says:

    I’m an amateur blogger (though I’ve been blogging in various places for over ten years), outsider artist, budding entrepreneur, hobbyist gardener and robotics engineer. I struggle with trying to make everything perfect the first time ’round, but I’m trying to just get into the flow of things and go with what I feel. I love taking workshops and classes because I love learning and I also love immersing myself in various subjects and disciplines. I’m learning to be imperfect. I’m learning to be and be comfortable with being an amateur. :)

  11. Livia says:

    I’m an amateur in gardening. We have a balcony – my boyfriend plants herbs and I plant the flowers, we love it when the first ‘morning glory’ opens its buds. And we dispair a little when it comes to ants and greenflys or louses – but we’re amateur photographers, too, and whenever a bee is in the buds my boyfriend jumps for the macro filter. And when we tour together I’m the one to photograph any details while he makes the panorama.
    I’m an amateur singer as well despite my hearing impairment. I take classes to develop that skill, and it is good for me that with 46 years noone expects me to become a professional singer. So I sing free from any expectations and any pressure … I once thought I could be a sculptress or painter, but then I studied languages and literature, so now I am an amateur painter, and every now and then I paint and sketch. And maybe I am an amateur designer, too, because I sometimes create some pieces of furniture – or I give the pieces I buy a new decoration.
    I may also be an amateur muffin and bread baker, vegetarian food cook, housekeeper, instructor, dogwalker, webdesigner, teacher, actor – and maybe an amateur nanny, too.
    And I like that.
    Cheers to all of you

  12. anuj says:

    hi emilie
    you are so lovely, and i am literally infatuated with you, hey i hope you understand why i used the word infatuation because i have always been infatuated or you may say passionate about so many things but they are always for a short time. I want to ask you one thing – is it like – can we be also scared of committing our self to a relationship – like marriage.

  13. Erica says:

    I am an amateur at creating theatre and showing people different ways to emote and express themselves. I love singing opera. I love talking about life I love relating to people through laughter and moving my body. I am an amateur at directing a story or a scene.
    I am an amateur at sculpting with clay. I love drawing I love dancing and helping others dance who can’t or think they can’t without being intoxicated. I love listening to people in pain. I love seeing someone reveal themselves to me. I am an amateur at being funny and eating laughter happiness.

  14. Juha says:

    Thanks for the post and also for the great community here at Puttylike! Like many others I’ve discovered that I’m not alone with all my many many paths that I have and will follow in the future. And most importantly, it is OK to do so!

    I think there are two things that can easily take the enthusiasm and excitement out of pretty much anything you do. They are money and fame. I know lot of people who have ruined their musical or artistic hobbies by becoming a professional and started to feel the need to make money with their passion. Also, if you become famous of doing something particular, you immediately have earned the status of an expert or master. This can bring pressure to maintain the status and suddenly you find yourself doing things for the wrong reasons. Fame can also bring money in to the equation and there you go…

    So yes, being and staying as an amateur and a lover of your passion(s) can provide a long and healthy relationship with your interests. And like Paulo Coelho said, what others think of you is none of your business :-)

  15. It can really depend. I did a lot of professional work in my early twenties all studio based and I made good money doing it but recently I have not been as active as a photographer.

    I spent some years working on other elements of my life. I find my self re-inspired to work with cameras again and I love the idea of making video but I have no idea what I am doing.

    I still know how to light and shoot things but to maintain time and a story at the same times is something totally new.

    I also like the idea of shooting fantastic landscapes as I recently moved to Switzerland but again I am a complete amateur at this.

    I think it is important to not get too wrapped up in titles and just enjoy your journey of learning and growing.

    I am an Professional Amateur Hobbyist Photographer.

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