44 - Year of the Amateur
NOTES / +Years in review / Calling all amateurs

I’ve reviewed my life around the time of my birthday every year for the last 14 years. It’s a funny habit to review a life as it’s happening. I can look back to last year when I was just acclimating to a life without a full-time tech job (with all its perks and foibles) and finishing up a book with no idea what lay on the other side of that project. Being all in and with the flow” turned out to be a useful mindset to approach the increasingly chaotic world on the brink of cultural collapse and a global pandemic. And also a fine one to witness the contradictions of all of this as the stock market floats on a cloud of overconfidence and willful blindness. 

This year I’m feeling drawn to the idea of embracing the upheaval as a portal to a new timeline. Instead of calling all the King’s horses and all the King’s men to put the world back together again, I want to look at the rubble and ask what new things can be built from these little pebbles. 

"Amateur" is my one word motto for my 44th orbit. 

I tend to sign up for a many online courses, but rarely complete them. Dr Jason Fox’s Choose One Word online course is a delightful exception — I gobbled up every one of the videos and exercises over the course of a few weeks. He offered a whimsical tour through my favorite corners of self-reflection, character development, and meaning-making. Long story short, it was the perfect fit as an expansion pack to my yearly review, and is how I ended up arriving at “amateur” as my word for this year.

What is an amateur?

An amateur is:

  • "One who cultivates and participates in something but does not pursue it professionally or with an eye to gain." -- Online Etymology Dictionary

The label of an amateur can be used both aspirationally and in a derogatory manner. The amateur is the opposite of labels like the professional, the expert, the authority — which also have both positive and negative connotations. There are many strong cases made for the expert over the amateur. There are honesty many circumstances where I agree with the case for experts, especially when responding to a problem that is urgent and well-understood. It's tough to argue that expertise plays a valuable role in today's world with so many complex problems.

When is the amateur needed, then? Experts are useful when the domains of knowledge, wisdom, and craft required to thrive in a given situation are all well-understood. They are less useful when the chaotic nature of reality reveals a new chaotic shenanigan that hasn't yet been reckoned with. Experts of other fields may swoop in, steeped in Dunning-Kruger effect, and attempt to apply their expertise in the other domain to the problem at hand. Sometimes that works, other times it makes things worse. The amateur can enter the domain with a desire to see and understand the new landscape with a beginner's eyes, and clear a path of not-knowing so that new understanding can take seed and build up again.

The case for the amateur can be made for anyone that looks at our current world and recognizes that a lot of the current problems have the +Chaos Monkey’s hand in it. These problems haven’t been reckoned with before, at the scale that we’re dealing with them, with the constraints that we currently have. An amateur, free from the burden of having to appear certain, is able to surf incoherence even if it means wiping out a lot in the beginning. It means actively seeking to dialogue with the Chaos Monkey rather than trying to exile them. Because that’s impossible. 

What kind of map will this be?

It will be a map of whatever comes to mind as relevant to what is happening. It will be inconsistent, it will jump around, some parts will be way too detailed and others not nearly detailed enough. It’ll basically be a web of living Notebooks that capture whatever comes their way, linking to each other. The ability to solicit inline comments and thoughts as the scribbles are put down on paper is an interesting perk of using Dropbox Paper for something personal rather than professional. There is no thesis, no claim to working towards the truth, but hopefully some of the scrawlings will spark something in you, that then lead to something that sparks another connection for me, and we’ll get somewhere interesting together.
 
 

Rough notes on being an amateur

Principles / Values

  1. Savor Mistakes. Practice letting mistakes linger instead of being immediately erased. Look at them and ask them how they can be a teacher.
  1. Indulge Distractions. Always make space and time for quiet, undirected interests to blossom. Instead of stomping down the trail of progress, keep an ear open for that unexpected bird call, and then stop and shhh to see if I can hear it again. Consider a new trail that gets you closer to the unexpected bird.
  1. Consider Foolish Leads. Embark on foolish journeys. The professionals and experts have bewildered me and I sometimes can’t tell which journeys are worthwhile and which aren't. There are probably good things hidden on trails that have been marked as too foolish to walk down.
  1. Integrated these into my +Values for Living.

Patterns / Behaviors

  • Do nothing frequently.
  • Invite disagreement and conversational rabbit holes. 
  • Draw random things for fun.
  • Play fun things on the piano.
  • Have fun reading Tarot and other symbol languages.
  • Make imperfect meals ambitiously.
  • Launch impossible projects before they’re ready.
  • Leave some projects unfinished.
  • Give things away without thought.
  • Publish first drafts.
  • Allow inconsistency that feels right.

Associations

  • Hobbies: Professionals have interests, skills, talents etc applied to projects and initiatives. Amateurs have hobbies that they love.  
  • The Pages and Princesses of Tarot The youngest of the court cards, the Page (or Princess, depending on the deck) of Cups, Wands, Swords, and Coins are typically known as the enthusiastic novices of their suit. They lack the caution and the mastery that the other court carts grow to represent.
  • Mudskippers Long-term amateurs of life on land.

 

Last year in review (all in & with the flow)

What did my year contain? I dragged these in from my Facebook account’s Instragram album, an somewhere along the way a machine has learned what my year contained the following: 

  • Food, people, indoors, text, trees, outdoors, sky, cloud, nature, sitting, plant, flower, selfie, closeup, drink, stripes, screen, living room, people sleeping, baby, shoes, people playing musical instruments, night, stadium, people smiling, table, fire, and water.