To be known as an Amateur

I struggle with the word professional.

It always comes off to me as superior – and so I have a hard time applying the moniker to myself, despite the fact that 22 years as a working stiff probably qualifies me for the common use of the title in my areas of expertise. Speaking of words that I have some dislike for, there’s another: expertise. I dislike expertise for similar reasons since it implies an end-state and I believe we’re all just at varying stages of acquiring knowledge and wisdom. Who would ever want to stop learning? To me that would imply death.

For these reasons the true meaning of Amateur is most profound for me. I often coach myself to strive for a “Rookie’s verve” in things I do. When I get things right in life I can attribute them to acting as an amateur would. No amount of books, knowledge or schooling seem to make up for what this kind of attitude can have in life. I’m certainly delighted to be an amateur running my first marathon since it captures the spirit of the whole thing…quite so. In business too I would much rather act in the spirit of an amateur. Having started my own business a little over a year ago I feel I’m a step closer to that.

In doing some research for my run I have been watching a bit of Chariots of Fire. The movie has always ranked as one of my favorites and that was true long before I was a runner. As soon as I can figure out the intricacies of video encoding I’ll put up my favorite clip from the movie which shows Scot Eric Liddell winning the 400 meter race.

In the mean time I came across an academic from BYU by the name of John S. Tanner who writes about amateurism beautifully (he ties in Chariots of Fire which is how I happened across his piece). Here are some excerpts but I strongly encourage you to read the whole piece.

“Following my appointment as academic vice president, I received many kind notes from faculty colleagues. As the congratulations came in, I thought of sobering remarks by Hugh Nibley:

Anyone can become a dean, a professor, a department head, a chancellor, or a custodian by appointment—it has happened thousands of times; but since the world began, no one has ever become an artist, a scientist, or a scholar by appointment. The professional may be a dud, but to get any recognition, the amateur has to be good. [“The Day of the Amateur,” Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, ed. Don E. Norton and Shirley S. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo: FARMS, 1994), p. 303]”

and this

“The word amateur derives from the Latin for “love.” An amateur is at root a lover—a lover of sport, science, art, and so forth. It is this sense of amateur that I believe we must preserve if we are to achieve a more excellent way. There is much to recommend the professional ethic, including rigor, methodology, high standards of review, and so forth. Yet I hope we never cease to be amateurs in our professions—that is, passionate devotees of our disciplines.”

and this from Dr. Tanner on Chariots of Fire

“The film Chariots of Fire is organized around the contrast between the professional and the amateur. The movie tells the true story of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell—both gifted sprinters and both, eventually, gold medalists in the 1924 Olympics. Abrahams exemplifies the spirit of the professional: he is driven, highly coached, obsessed with winning and personal glory. Liddell, by contrast, embodies the spirit of the amateur: he is joyous, heartfelt, animated by the love of running and the glory of God. Abrahams runs on his nerves; when asked why he runs, he says winning is a weapon against pervasive anti-Semitism. Liddell runs from his heart; he says he runs for God.”

Which brings me to my favorite scene from Chariots, which includes a host of poignant moments including the one where American competitor Jackson Schultz, who understands Liddell’s intent and motivation, hands him a hand written note that includes a quote from the bible:

“Mr. Liddell, it says in the old book
“He that honors me
I will honor”
Good Luck –
Jackson Schultz”

Image from Chariots of Fire “He That Honors Me”

To read more about Liddell and a bit about Schultz read this great account from Helen Thomson.

I rather enjoyed Dr. Tanner’s description of my favorite scene from the movie where Liddell narrates to his sister about his reasons for running and his calling to evangelize in China (which he went on to do) as he runs the 400.

“We see this contrast in their respective running styles. Abrahams’ running is technically sophisticated and fierce; he scowls his way across the finish line. By contrast, Liddell runs like a wild animal across the hillsides. At a certain point in each race, Liddell leans back his head, opens his mouth, and turns on the jets—abandoning himself to the pure expression of his divine gift. This accurate portrayal of Liddell’s running style symbolizes that his running is inspired. Inspire literally means “breathed into” by God. Liddell’s inspired passion for his sport is captured by a famous line from the movie spoken to his sister Jenny, who is worried that he is forgetting his higher commitment to God and to an eventual mission to China:

“I believe that God made me for a purpose. For China. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt. You were right. It’s not just fun. To win is to honor Him.”

and this from the previously cited Helen Thomson on Liddell’s life after his gold medal:

“Liddell retired from international athletics immediately afterwards on the grounds that he had now won the Olympics. Four years later he recorded a time far quicker than that of his successor as champion at a small meeting in Asia two weeks after the Games.”

I can think of no moniker that I’d aspire to more than amateur. How about you?