When did the word “amateur” become derogatory? It comes from the French word for “lover” and denotes someone who works out of love, without regard to compensation. Seems like a noble word. So why the negative connotation?

I’m not sure. I have some theories. But I suspect the world needs more amateurs.

You should probably skip this post and go buy Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work instead. Read the section called Be an Amateur. As he writes, amateurs have some benefits over their professional counterparts. They don’t have have as much to lose because their income isn’t tied to their work. They can experiment and take risks. Many pros fear the unknown; they don’t know if the unknown can feed their family. Amateurs welcome the unknown, because it’s where they learn. They may lack the proper education, but their seeming naivety allows them to discover overlooked possibilities.

Whether or not their work is noteworthy, amateurs are creating something. Kleon quotes Clay Shirky from his book Cognitive Surplus:

The stupidest creative act is still a creative act… On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.

I’m not arguing against professionals. I’m saying if you want to be a professional, start by being an amateur. Let love for what you do motivate your work. Be bold, experiment, take risks, make mistakes, learn in public, have fun. Be an amateur.