Being an amateur

This post is inspired by an article I read in the Belgian magazine Knack called “The hour of the amateur” and an article on which can be found here.

A young nurse, interviewed by John Humphrys recently on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme, was asked what she considered the two most important qualities in her job. “Being caring and being compassionate,” she replied.

“Not being professional?” Humphrys countered, emphasising that her answer was very unusual.

“No, not being professional,” she confirmed.

Subject of both articles is the former professional cricket-player Edward (Ed) Smith. Smith broke his ankle at the age of 31, thus ending his professional sport career. He became a writer/journalist and in the weekends occasionally played cricket as a hobby. Amazingly enough, he became better than he ever was. Without the professional training, the big salary and some extra pounds.

Smith explains that by becoming what he calls ultra-professional, he forgot an important thing about cricket. he played it because he liked it. Because it was fun to do.

In the space of a hundred years, the words “professional” and “amateur” have virtually swapped places. At the end of the 19th century, an amateur meant someone who was motivated by the sheer love of doing something; professional was a rare, pejorative term for grubby money-making.

In the mid of the 19th century, English gentlemen decided only amateurs should be allowed to participate in the Olympics. Sportsman from wealthy families were amateurs, while the working class automatically delivered professionals ‘because they make a living with manual labor’. By the end of the 19th century, the term was defined as: an amateur is someone who does not earn money with his sport, regardless of his class.

Up until 1988 only amateurs were allowed at the Olympic games. After that year, the OIC decided to allow professionals as well. Together with the professionals came the big sponsors, turning the games into what it is today.

a small spark of amateurism distinguishes the gods from the great

Smiths point on fun is easy to spot in sports. Usain Bolt pleases the crowds because he loves what he’s doing, Ronaldinho played at Barcelona with a smile no matter what, Roger Federer can play an incredible match and tell an interviewer afterwards how amazing the game was.

A lot of companies might as well benefit from revaluing amateurism every now and then. Keeping the environment fun to explore and deepen your own interests. When speaking of sustainability as the ability to flourish, it’s easy to see people flourishing in an inspiring environment with room for experiment and self-fulfillment.


About leyssensjan

Jan Leyssens is a designer and entrepreneur who strongly believes you can’t turn sustainability into a positive story if your main focus is on negative impact. When designing, he is always looking for the overlap between activism and entrepreneurship, technology and community. His main expertise lies in strategic business model development, Circular Economy, the makermovement, and social innovation. With a background in Industrial Design, Jan quickly shifted his focus towards business design and using the design process in strategic management. Jan is the father of two kids and founder & CEO of Regenerative Design, co-founder of Full Circle, ImpactBoost, and the Circular Design map, podcaster, storyteller, and changemaker.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Purpose-driven Entrepreneurship (bis) | Keep the game, change the rules

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