Professional Amateurs

posted in: attitudinal | 5

Over the years I’ve seen and read many perspectives on “professional motherhood.” For a time, considering myself a professional made a lot of sense and appealed to me. Sure, it has some connotation of coldness and calculation, but it also implied that this was my job, and sitting around in my pajamas wasn’t going to cut it. Professional also implies deliberate and intentional duty-fulfillment: a professional shows up even if he doesn’t feel like it. There are a lot of subtle ways moms can go through the motions without “showing up,” and I knew I needed to get over that.

However, amateur also has its appeal. The root of the word is in a “lover,” someone who does something because they love it and not because they want or need or like the money the task offers. Unfortunately, the word now implies someone who is a hack. Well, ok, so maybe I am an amateur. :) But, love is the right motivation, and loving what you do will keep you going, keep you “showing up,” even when it’s hard.

Which is the best paradigm for a mother at home? Are we amateurs or professionals?

Pluck the daisy petals with me.

I am an amateur.

am·a·teur   
[am-uh-choor, -cher, -ter, am-uh-tur] Show IPA
–noun
1. a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional.
4. a person who admires something; devotee; fan: an amateur of the cinema.

amateur
1784, “one who has a taste for (something),” from Fr. amateur “lover of,” from O.Fr., from L. amatorem (nom. amator ) “lover,” from amatus, pp. of amare >”to love” (see Amy). Meaning “dabbler” (as opposed to professional ) is from 1786.

I am not an amateur.

am·a·teur   
[am-uh-choor, -cher, -ter, am-uh-tur] Show IPA
–noun
a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity: Hunting lions is not for amateurs.

I am a professional.

pro·fes·sion·al   
[pruh-fesh-uh-nl] Show IPA
–noun
5. a person who belongs to or engages in one of the professions
7. a person who engages in an activity with great competence

I am not a professional.

pro·fes·sion·al   
[pruh-fesh-uh-nl] Show IPA
–noun
6. a person who engages for his livelihood in some activity also pursued by amateurs
8. an expert player of a game who gives instruction, esp to members of a club by whom he is hired

What am I?

professional
early 15c., of religious orders; 1747 of careers (especially of the skilled or learned trades from c.1793); see profession. Meaning “one who does X for a living” is from 1798; opposed to amateur from 1851. The noun is recorded from 1811.

I am an amateur.

Indeed, he is not so free. Of the two sexes the woman is in the more powerful position. For the average woman is at the head of something with which she can do as she likes; the average man has to obey orders and do nothing else. He has to put one dull brick on another dull brick, and do nothing else; he has to add one dull figure to another dull figure, and do nothing else. The woman’s world is a small one, perhaps, but she can alter it. The woman can tell the tradesman with whom she deals some realistic things about himself. The clerk who does this to the manager generally gets the sack, or shall we say (to avoid the vulgarism), finds himself free for higher culture. Above all, as I said in my previous article, the woman does work which is in some small degree creative and individual. She can put the flowers or the furniture in fancy arrangements of her own. I fear the bricklayer cannot put the bricks in fancy arrangements of his own, without disaster to himself and others. […] A woman cooking may not always cook artistically; still she can cook artistically. She can introduce a personal and imperceptible alteration into the composition of a soup. The clerk is not encouraged to introduce a personal and imperceptible alteration into the figures in a ledger. […] The average woman, as I have said, is a despot; the average man is a serf. I am for any scheme that any one can suggest that will make the average woman more of a despot. So far from wishing her to get her cooked meals from outside, I should like her to cook more wildly and at her own will than she does. So far from getting always the same meals from the same place, let her invent, if she likes, a new dish every day of her life. Let woman be more of a maker, not less. –The ever-quotable Chesterton

I am a professional.

The professional man is in essence one who provides service. But the service he
renders is something more than that of the laborer, even the skilled laborer. It
is a service that wells up from the entire complex of his personality. True,
some specialized and highly developed techniques may be included, but their mode
of expression is given its deepest meaning by the personality of the
practitioner. In a very real sense his professional service cannot be separate
from his personal being. Elbert Parr Tuttle

I don’t want to be an amateur.

According to one James Agate “a professional is a man who can do his job when he doesn’t feel like it. An amateur is a man who can’t do his job when he does feel like it.” Our sense of the word amateur is that while professionals are good at what they do, amateurs are simply hacks. – Podictionary: Podcast for Word Lovers

amateur, dilettante, dabbler: a person who follows a pursuit without attaining proficiency or professional status. amateur often applies to one practicing an art without mastery of its essentials; in sports it may also suggest not so much lack of skill but avoidance of direct remuneration. dilettante may apply to the lover of an art rather than its skilled practitioner but usually implies elegant trifling in the arts and an absence of serious commitment. dabbler suggests desultory habits of work and lack of persistence. Mirriam-Webster

What is a professional?

The truth is I wasn’t taking myself seriously or valuing my own work. I was terrified that someone would ask for my degree or official credentials. […] I didn’t need to prove myself to anyone. I was already doing it–running a business and providing for my family. I became a professional when I started acting like one. […] And just like my business, I didn’t need an outside parenting expert (or my mother or my friends) to declare me a professional mother. I just needed to validate for myself that I am the professional my family needs. […] We’re doing it–mothering every day. We are creative problem solvers, strategic planners, health care practitioners, professional organizers and effective managers.

I am an amateur.

I am a professional.

Am I an amateur?

Word History: When Mrs. T.W. Atkinson remarked in her 1863 Recollections of the Tartar Steppes and their Inhabitants, “I am no amateur of these melons,” she used amateur in a sense unfamiliar to us. That sense, “a lover, an admirer,” is, however, clearly descended from the senses of the word’s ultimate Latin source, amtor, “lover, devoted friend, devotee, enthusiastic pursuer of an objective,” and from its Latin-derived French source, amateur, with a similar range of meanings. First recorded in English in 1784 with the sense in which Mrs. Atkinson used it, amateur is found in 1786 with a meaning more familiar to us, “a person who engages in an art, for example, as a pastime rather than as a profession,” a sense that had already developed in French. Given the limitations of doing something as an amateur, it is not surprising that the word is soon after recorded in the disparaging sense we still use to refer to someone who lacks professional skill or ease in performance. Free Dictionary

Should I be professional?

We are waking up to our duties and in proportion as mothers become more highly educated and efficient, they will doubtless feel the more strongly that the education of their children during the first six years of life is an undertaking hardly to be entrusted to any hands but their own. And they will take it up as their profession––that is, with the diligence, regularity, and punctuality which men bestow on their professional labours. – Charlotte Mason

Let us be both lovers of our work as well as intentional executives of it.

5 Responses

  1. Kirsti
    |

    Can we call ourselves aficionados?

    afi·cio·na·do
    noun
    a person who likes, knows about, and appreciates a usually fervently pursued interest or activity

    • Mystie Winckler
      |

      There’s another option! You don’t often hear of aficionados of motherhood. :) Synonyms are ‘fan’ and ‘devotee,’ though; it seems to imply having a taste for a thing but not necessarily being able to do or make the thing: pizza aficionado, music aficionado.

      I like amateur looking at its history, but I don’t think we can ignore that it now connotes someone who doesn’t do a good job of it – oh, wait, yeah, maybe totally applicable. ;) But, I could stand to work on the love aspect, myself.

      This was a draft I wrote 3 years ago that I pulled out and published last night; in the light of morning I think it needs an introductory paragraph. :)

  2. Geoff Paulson
    |

    Less of a young professional, more of an ancient amateur.

    • Mystie Winckler
      |

      You aren’t much younger than me, you know. ;)

      But it is an ancient craft.

  3. Willa
    |

    What a great post! I love word studies. My daughter and I were just discussing something like this… I think I will forward this to her.