Professional amateur, perpetually dilettanting

When I started writing, I knew that "dilettanting" wasn't a real word, just some strange verbing (also not a word, eh) of the word dilettante. I looked it up, just to be sure. The dictionary broke my heart. I thought a dilettante was just someone who likes to try many new things, but an online dictionary is telling me:

a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge

That last part hits too close to home: "without real commitment or knowledge". So it might not be about trying new things, just engaging in one field, but having no commitment or knowledge remains true.

What I was going to write about was work-related things again, but it's not much different than home things. At work I like to launch myself headfirst at opportunities to try things, for good or ill. Someone needs help with this—sure. Someone needs help with that—sure. Do you think you can build this—sure. Can you solve this problem—sure. And so on and so on.

The response—sure—is many things. It's a lack of discipline—of volunteering before thinking through the consequences. It's curiosity about how something works. It's an absurd interest in trying to see if I can measure up to something, which starts out innocent enough, but often metastasizes into competition, self- or otherwise. It also might be an observation error—it might not be something as new as I think it is, just an incremental difference.

I think that a well-adjusted human would know better than to repeatedly take the leap into something new—this is my job, I do my job, when I'm done doing my job, I do the next thing that my job requires and that is my job. Over and over, with some small changes. In those words, it sounds like a horrifying thing, but that's also how you master a skill. Practice something a million times and you're not just an expert, but a super-expert.

It doesn't suit me, though.

And in 95% or more of the cases in life, it isn't a suitable approach. 95% of the cases are about reliability—doing something well yesterday, today, and tomorrow. But those other 5%? That's when the deal goes down, when things break, when the luck is bad, when the house is on fire, when doing the one thing you know how to do well doesn't work anymore. Those are the cases when being a professional amateur are a bonus. Figuring it out as you go isn't necessarily a skill—it's more like being comfortable with uncertainty and being confident that you'll figure out how to do the thing eventually. It's a low-key confidence because you have it while you're awful, but without it you'd never stick around until you were less awful.

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