A Professional Knows Their Value

Seth Godin offers a pretty good definition of amateur, professional and hack in a recent post. While I haven’t fully considered all the implications of his definition, I feel like it makes the best distinction between professional and amateur I have come across because it avoids explicit or implicit comparisons of quality, dedication, training/education that are often present in discussing these terms.

The amateur contributes with unfiltered joy. There’s really no other upside–create your work because you can, because it helps someone else, because it makes you feel good.

The professional shows up even when she doesn’t feel like it. The professional understands the market, the customer and the price to be paid for work that’s worth paying for. But the professional isn’t a hack.

A hack is a professional who doesn’t care.

If I have one quibble, it is that his definition of professional is tied to economic value of a product. Granted, the classic definition is that amateurs do things for the love of it and professionals get paid, but we all know that often professionals are asked to do things for exposure or told they shouldn’t expect payment for something they enjoy, and that doesn’t make them any less of a professional.

At the same time, I appreciate the way the definition of a professional includes a sense of dedication that goes beyond the love of the creative process and implies the professional has done the work to educate themselves about external factors surrounding their work. There is the idea that one’s work has market value and all the complicated discussions we have about the quality of work having no relation to market price, but also the sense that the professional knows when their work is being devalued.

Godin’s distinction between hacks and both amateurs and professionals is that the latter two groups have a longer view about the role and value of their work in the greater ecosystem:

Serviceable is for hacks. Memorable and remarkable belong to professionals and hard-working amateurs.


About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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4 thoughts on “A Professional Knows Their Value”

  1. The main distinction is between professionals and amateurs. The hack is merely a type of professional, according to Godin. You can qualify professionals in all sorts of different ways, and amateurs as well. The dilettante is a type of amateur, for instance.

    But the main difference between amateurs and professionals is what Godin mentioned about the marketplace. The professional is defined at least in part by that relationship. The amateur, by contrast, is negatively defined as being NON-professional by that standard. Thus, a professional has that relationship while the amateur does not. So one thing is defined positively, while the other is defined only in relation to it through an absence.

    Defining amateur positively would perhaps include doing the thing for its own sake. Notice that this does not exclude professionals who at times operate in independence of the marketplace and make work simply for its own sake. That is, being a professional in this sense does not remove it from the inherent motivations that drive amateurs.

    This simply points to the truth that our labels are only good to the extent they point out a context. They do not define classes of being, once and for all, merely describe nuances in situation, behavior, and motivation. In some cases the amateur and professional stand on opposite and incommensurable sides, and at others are united. Amateurs and professionals may share more than what separates them, when looked at broadly.


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