For love or money? What is professionalism?

Nick Dunlap made golfing history in January 2024 when he won The American Express PGA Tour.  He is the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event in 33 years.  The prize money for the event is £1.5m.  However, because he is an amateur golfer (Dunlap is a university student), he doesn’t get to win any of the money.

In a 2019 episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld takes his friend and guest, fellow comedian Mario Joyner to the barber.  Jerry insists that Mario’s beard needs trimming.  Leaving aside the strain that this might put on any relationship (if your friend’s hirsute style troubles you would you book them into a hairdresser, and if you did would they still be your friend?), the sincerity of Seinfeld’s horror at Joyner’s unfettered beard is clearly authentic.

Post barber, situation resolved (though the difference seems marginal), Seinfeld points out that he thinks it is much better, and that there are some things that need to be carried out by professionals.  And this takes the pair into a familiar (to regular viewers of the show), rant about how comedy is only the business of professionals, and amateurs telling jokes fills them with horror.

But doing something because you love it, the original definition of amateur (from the latin amare – to love), requires a passion for the subject that could transcend simply doing something for money, clearly evidenced in Dunlap’s golfing victory. 

Most bloggers will be doing it for the love of getting their point of view out there.  I don’t get paid for this blog – it doesn’t mean that I don’t consider myself a professional blogger, and care about every word, every semi colon, and the cadence of each sentence. 

The scientist and heiress Miriam Rothschild spent years compiling a four volume catalogue of fleas, published in the 1950s.  She had come under accusations in a field almost exclusively populated by men, of being a dilettante.  She instead used the term amateur with pride.  According to Natalie Livingstone, the author of Women of Rothschild, it was Miriam’s “expert amateurism that allowed her to follow her broad interests, work across subdisciplines, imbue her work with her love of literature and philosophy, and avoid the increasing specialism she observed taking place”.  Miriam was a huge success in her field, she served as the first woman trustee at the Natural History Museum and was awarded an honorary doctorate of science by Oxford University and was a visiting professor at the Royal Free Hospital.  Read between the lines and her amateur status allowed her to break the glass wall of men dominated institutions, and the freedom to explore her own judgement for the benefit of science.

What does being a professional mean?  In the world of sport, being a professional means getting paid for what you do.  Is that the only criteria?  Or is there a level of professionalism that requires more than just a salary?  My first job was selling shoes in Dolcis in Brent Cross.  I don’t think the lavish salary (for a 14 year old, (with double time for bank holidays and a bonus for selling Scotchguard)), made me a professional. 

My colleague Rob Meldrum, head of creative futures at EMX, spoke recently to his team about a collective ambition to make “the best work of our lives”. 

This ambition, together with the expertise and persistence, are what characterises professionalism.  And it is what I’d want from a barber / hairdresser.  What any client would want I think.  And what keeps me loving my job.

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