Be an amateur and an expert

Why You Should Be An Amateur AND An Expert

On Monday, I made a case for not swimming alone, but finding people passionate about your subject and swimming with them. You’ll notice I did not use the word “expert.” When you’re seeking out someone with that passion, you want them to be both an amateur AND an expert.

“Amateur” Definition (Oxford English Dictionary):

1. One who loves or is fond of, one who has a taste for anything.
2.  a. One who cultivates anything as a pastime, as distinguished from one who prosecutes it professionally; hence, sometimes used disparagingly, as = dabbler, or superficial student or worker. b. Often prefixed (in apposition) to another designation, as amateur painter, amateur gardener.
3.a. Hence attrib. almost adj. Done by amateurs. Cf. amateur gardener with amateur gardening.
b. Used disparagingly. Cf. sense 2.

Following this list of definitions, “amateur” both means someone with such a passion about a subject, it goes beyond everyday interest as well as someone that “dabbles” instead of seriously studying.

“Amateur” comes from the Latin “Amatore” meaning “Lover of.”

Why You Should be an “Amateur”

Amateur literally means to be in love with your subject. This implies that once you leave behind “amateur” status, you have transitioned from being in love with your subject, to merely understanding it well. If you lose your passion for your subject, you should no longer be doing that!

Maybe you majored in accounting at school because you loved it. You were passionate about the numbers, working with the numbers, and getting everything organized and ticked off as you worked your way through school. Maybe you passed your CPA exam and LOVED being an accountant for a few years. Now, however, you’re an expert. There’s nothing new to learn, you think. Every day is simple, predictable. People trust you because you know what you’re talking about, but you don’t have that everyday passion you used to have.

How do you become an amateur AGAIN?

If you USED to have that passion about something, but find you no longer do, try learning more. Try experimenting. Venture to related fields. If you can’t rekindle that same day to day passion you used to have, it’s time to figure out what topic creates that same passion NOW. (I’m not saying you need to quit your job necessarily. But if you spend your life not interacting with your passions, you’ll lose the love of life pretty quickly.)

You don’t have to be an amateur with your finances

So personal finance isn’t your passion? That’s fine. That doesn’t mean you have to stink at money. Pick up a good book like Your Money or Your Life and read some blogs of people that like to think about money. (oh hello! welcome!)

“Expert” Definition (many sources):

  1. (noun) A person wise with experience
  2. (adjective) Having or involving authoritative knowledge

Again, linguistically, we attribute someone with “expert” status to knowing through experience, but also tied to profession ($) or status.

In the 19th Century, the term “expert” meant someone who was qualified to testify in court because of specially acquired knowledge (through trial or experience) that would not be known generally.

Why You Should Be an “Expert”

You don’t need to have a job title or status associated with being an expert on a topic. Can you tell me the names of all of the Doctors in the history of Doctor Who? That’s not knowledge known generally, which means you’re an expert. Can you tell me the titles and publication years of all of Jane Austen’s novels? (hello mom!) Congrats! You are a Jane Austen expert! If you’re passionate enough about a topic that you know its ins and outs regardless of any status or paycheck associated with it, you are an expert!

You DO need to be an expert with your money!

We just established that an expert is someone that has gained knowledge that the general public does not have, through experience. You, my friend, are the expert of YOUR personal finance story! There are many money experts, but you are the expert of YOUR money, because no one else has had the same experiences! Relativity in personal finance means your story is different and you are the only one that can be the expert of it!

How do you become an expert of your money?

  1. Experience it – Experts gain knowledge through experience. Have you been in debt? Have you bought a house? Have you learned to save? Have you spent money? Have you lost money? Have you made dumb money choices? Congrats, you have experience!
  2. Learn from those Experiences – Here’s where the experts emerge. If you make the same money mistakes over and over, are you an expert? No! You’ve had experiences, but you haven’t gained the knowledge!
  3. Talk to Other Experts – I don’t mean famous money people. If you want to pay your mortgage off early, call up the guy you know that did that and ask him how he did it! You want to quit your job and start your own business? Talk to the lady you know that did it!

You should be both an amateur and an expert in at least one domain! TELL US topics in which YOU are both an expert and an amateur!


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  1. I don’t think I will ever, ever claim to be an expert at anything. Except maybe an expert attempt-er. I push myself so hard to try new things and to wiggle outside of my comfort zone. But my goal is to always keep learning. So it’s possible that I might master some skill, but I don’t know that I’ll ever think of myself as an expert. Interesting thought exercise, Maggie!

    • MaggieBanks

      You are definitely an expert teacher! Have you had teaching experience? Have you learned things the general public doesn’t know through those experiences? YES! Hello, Expert Teacher! It’s great of you to stop by! 🙂

  2. Ha, I just had an hr meeting with a financial advisor provided free here at the office. This time it was actually a great experience. Using my “amateur” PF knowledge I went in asking about 72t programs for our 401k, better options for building income streams with our nest egg than income generating dividend funds, how to protect our nest egg while it still grows, since we’re getting close to “needing it” for real, and other topics. It was surprisingly actually really informative and very helpful.

    Later this morning, I had another 40 minute chat with a colleague about whether or not PMI is worth it, or should she just save 20% from the beginning. We had sketches on my white board, googled PMI calculator to get an accurate number and she was all set to go thru with getting PMI until I pointed out that she’d have to still pay down almost 20% before it would disappear. That would be about $1k extra per month for 4 years, while still paying the PMI.

    She decided she’s going the no PMI route, so we spitballed ideas to save 20% even faster and now she’s going to work on implementing those plans. 🙂 yeah, win!!

    My passion and some knowledge helped in both situations, BUT like my blog says, “I’m no expert, so follow my advice at your own risk” lol.

    • MaggieBanks

      See? By my definition, you’re both in this field! That sounds like an amazing day! I LOVE doing things like that!

  3. Matt @ Optimize Your Life

    That’s really interesting. I was not familiar with the first definition of amateur (although as a Latin student for 8 years I probably should have been). I tend to consider myself an amateur in a lot of things, but that was more because I would learn them out of interest and then never turn them into a profession. I will have to start applying these definitions instead 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      We need to stop ignoring the amateurs of the world… I’ve learned from experience (so I’m, by definition, an expert on the topic!) that learning from people that are passionate about something can be a lot more useful than learning from someone that has status or the paycheck to indicate “expert.”

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