The Amateur Mindset

LTL_diagramAs cliche as it sounds, you can’t be afraid to take risks when it comes to learning new things. If you wait until you “know how to do something” before you apply for a specific job or take on a new task, you are going to find out that you will never be ready to take the leap.


You can’t be afraid to fall flat on your face. You need to rekindle the “amateur mindset” that you had sometime not so long ago.

The word “amateur” can be thought of as meaning “unskillful”; that is not how I am using it here.  I think of it rather as meaning “someone who engages in a study as a hobby as opposed to a profession”.

Personally, I think our eduction system teaches us out of our ability to be creative and take risks, but expanding on that opinion is for a future post. In the meantime, I have a 7-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter who, for the most part, are not afraid of failure because they don’t think that “failing” is a bad thing. I’m going to do everything in my power to try to maintain their amateur mindset as they meet the challenges of life.

Fourteen years ago I got called to take a job teaching music to young middle schoolers in a public school. I was asked the following:

“Can you teach a class of 80 students how to play all the band instruments at the same time? They will enter your room never having touched an instrument or having read music, so you will have to teach them that. You will teach them in a group of 80 always, not having a chance to ever see them individually in small groups.”

Sure, I have a music background; I play the trombone. That was it, though. At that time I had absolutely no idea how to put together any other instrument, let alone teach a kid to play it, let alone teach 80 kids to do it at the same time.

So, of course, my answer was

“Sure I can do it! When do I start?”

That’s the cool thing about having an “amateur mindset”, An amateur is someone who is not afraid to do something for the first time. There is a huge learning curve ahead, and that is often very exciting to the amateur. It is for me; I am an amateur writer, for instance. If I look back at my earlier blog posts I am positive that I will see mistakes all over the place. A year from now I will probably look at this post and think it’s awful. That’s a good thing. It’s when you become an “expert” at something that the pressure is really on to produce.

This has been a recurring theme for me. I have interviewed for (and accepted) jobs which, at the time I applied, I had no business interviewing for. But the excitement of learning new things and working extra hard to acquire the skills and knowledge to be good at the job drove me to feel confident enough to take on the challenge.

When you think about it, this is how we were as kids. Everything was new back then. We didn’t know anything. We tried new things, often with reckless abandon, and we weren’t afraid to fail.

It’s never too late to adopt this mindset again.

Many of us engage in peripheral activities. Maybe we call these amateur activities “hobbies”; playing in a band, writing, yoga, photography, or whatever. Perhaps these peripherals in our lives are passions that are waiting to be cultivated further.  Perhaps.

I have found that the rewards of life have always sprouted from the courage to try all sorts of things for the first time. All of my best work started with taking risks, shirking fear, reaching just beyond my comfort zone. Nothing great I have ever done came easy.

Embracing this amateur mindset will open new paths for all of us and, yes–even allow for some luck to creep into our lives as well.

Share your stories of risks you have taken in the comment section below.


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