It’s Time to Decide: Are You An Amateur Or Professional?

At some point in our careers we need to decide how serious we are about the pursuit. As the old saying goes: “The thinking that got you into this mess isn’t the thinking you need to get out.”  All of us start as beginners or amateurs – and there’s no shame in that. But at some point, some decide that the pursuit is worth the self discipline it takes to reach the next level, while others decide to stay where they are.

I could use a million examples – maybe you’re restarting or changing careers, perhaps you’re a divorced or single mom. You took time off for school or to raise a family. I met a man recently who had spent years caring for his terminally ill wife, and now needed to get back into the workplace.

Whatever it is, there’s a point where a “soccer mom,” a man changing careers, or someone else in transition decides to become a professional leader. Here’s a handful of decisions he or she needs to consider in order to arrive at that destination:

An amateur believes his passion and energy is all he needs to make a successful presentation.
A professional dedicates the time and effort it takes to become an effective public speaker.

An amateur uses lots of emoticons and exclamation marks in her emails.
A professional expresses herself in an articulate, businesslike way.

An amateur thinks everyone at the meeting wants to hear his ideas.
A professional listens first, then shares based on what he’s heard.

An amateur gets dressed for work, and shows up looking like, well… an amateur.
A professional gets dressed for work, and shows up looking like a professional.

An amateur figures it’s too late to change. She is what she is.
A professional knows it’s never too late to change and is always learning.

An amateur is awkward and hesitant when he meets new people.
A professional knows that people skills are some of the most important skills you can possess.

When an amateur has a problem with her computer she gets exasperated, and then calls a teenager, spouse, or neighbor to fix it.
A professional takes a class or finds a mentor so she can take care of it herself. At the very least she runs through potential options so she doesn’t waste someone else’s time.

An amateur believes that it’s OK to turn in a report with grammatical and punctuation errors. After all, it’s the ideas in his report that matter.
A professional knows that clear communication is critical. How you express your message is as important as the message itself.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

In a world of cutthroat competition, “good enough” isn’t good enough anymore.

If you’re serious about your career, growth is a 24/7 task.  On my desk is a ceramic paperweight with a quote from Michelangelo, one of the greatest artists of all time.  It simply says:

“I am still learning.”

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  1. thank you for an excellent post. it’s hard work being a professional, but well worth it in terms of the successes you have

  2. Amateur is about the me not the we. Maturity is a huge part of professionalism.

    Knowing what you’re willing to work for is critical, too.
    Many devalue (or overvalue) themselves and lose their personal values on the way.
    Business’ will choose cheap over quality and noise over reality as long as it serves their purpose; even well meaning companies.

    There are times to stand out and stand back. Working as hard as you can for yourself is vital. It’s not a company’s job to know your value. You have to know it and believe it in order to show and sell it to them.

  3. Thanks Phil I love this. I just read this quote prior to reading your post: Intentional action is the hallmark of a professional. I agree too that learning is key, the key to creating value, and without value, are we professional?

  4. Really insightful! (I’ve just deleted some exclamation marks, quite frankly). I think the goal is to develop the expertise and character of a professional without losing the passion and enthusiasm of an amateur. How? Probably a good way to start is by surrounding yourself by both sorts of people.

  5. Fantastic advice – I love how so much of this focuses on communication, even from first impressions (such as how we dress).

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