My 8th Toastmasters speech: use visual aids. I only recorded myself from my desktop computer while hashing it out at home, so this is admittedly a bit funky, but I hope it’ll make you laugh the way it has others. The text is featured on Long Beach Underground — my good friend Peter’s brand new site dedicated to unsung artists. Check out his Facebook too, for great performances from recent his launch party.
Dada-daaa da-da-da-da-daaa. “Trying hard now…” Da/da/da/da/da/daaaa. Da-da-daaaa. Da-da-da-da-daaaaa… “Gonna fly, fly, fly…”
Note the damp towel at my neck, under the hood of my green workout jacket. Pretend there’s a locker-room reek to the air around me, a whiff of some over sweet protein-maxed drink that’s spilled onto the gym bag at my feet. Ignore how, under the above-the-waist stuff, I’ve got on a flamenco skirt. I’m aiming for a, albeit girly version, of a Rocky Balboa vibe.
Pumping my left fist into the air while grasping the lyric sheet in my right, anyone can hear how off-key my rendition of the “Rocky” movie theme is. I’m no professional singer, and I don’t care to be one.
I’m here to praise the Amateur.
Who hasn’t watched at least one of Hollywood’s billion variations on the ultimate American icon — the underdog? Those characters who never give up clawing their ways to their goals? No matter how many times they’re knocked down, again and again they dust themselves off to start all over.
Underdogs surpass all. For them lamentable backgrounds and situations are jet fuel. They spur them to dream bigger, work harder, and stay persistent! In the end, like phoenixes rising from ashes with moon beams and sunshine combined to halo their outstretched wings, movie underdogs always win.
Phooey. My praise is reserved for the Amateur.
The underdog fantasy is encrusted with sayings in the vein of, “Do what you love and the money will follow,” and, “Do what you love, follow your dreams, and you’ll win lots of praise.” This is where Jiminy Cricket warbles “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
Amateur is stronger than all that! To the Amateur, money and praise are irrelevant. That’s because the Amateur is defined by the sincerest of love.
Look up the definition for Amateur. Better yet, don’t. All you’ll find are filthy words best not repeated. Words that have zilch to do with how the root of Amateur, is Amour, the French word for Love.
It may take a while to agree with me, given that it took me five years to arrive at this level of respect Amateurs. That’s because, for five years, I tried to master the maddeningly impossible to learn 12-beat rhythm of flamenco dance.
Taking my cue from underdog lore, for those five years I labored to become decent at flamenco. My efforts included:
- attending several group classes per week
- taking private lessons
- practicing at outside of class
- dancing publicly
- buying custom fitted shoes from Spain
- experimenting with different teachers
- sewing my own costume
- buying costumes
- listening to flamenco music wherever I went, whatever I did
- watching flamenco movies and documentaries
- attending shows
- reading about flamenco
- hoping, praying, dreaming, talking — all about wanting to get good at flamenco
For people like me, Flamenco is a cruel love. Picture me:
- swirling my hands as nearly like graceful doves as I could
- arcing my arms as arabesque-ish as possible
- standing as straight as solid as I might, rat-a-tat-tatting my heels for all I’m worth
- swishing my skirt with all the emotion and conviction I was able to muster
None of it mattered. Nothing ratcheted into place. I never became anywhere near wonderful at it, nowhere close to a success at that damned 12-beat flamenco rhythm. If I was lucky, maybe on a super good day, I attained mediocrity.
It took all that, those five infuriating years, to fling aside my flamenco practice skirt.
That’s when I had my epiphany. Forget about experts and professionals. Amateurs — Amateurs! — are the ones who deserve praise!
Sure, experts and professionals work hard. But its easy get out of bed every day to practice something fun that you’re getting paid for. It’s painless to sink money behind money into a goal when a payoff is guaranteed.
Yeah, some experts and professionals swear they’re not doing it for the money. Whether they’re telling the truth or not, those truckloads of encouragement go a long way. So do the ribbons, trophies, and bragging points. With everyone exalting them, telling them how tremendous they are, how their dancing benefits the world of today and tomorrow, how could experts and professionals not keep at their goals?!
Real strength lies in committing to an endeavor devoid of all promise of any external validation. It’s deciding to enjoy it regardless of people sneering at one’s lack of mastery. Moreover, that strength defines mastery of the art of living a good life!
Life is not just a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s not some race toward a goal. I’m not racing to be born or to be in the middle of things. I’m not racing to die.
Life is every note of the entire song. Its every dance step. It’s savoring every moment. It’s embracing every pratfall, every misstep.
Only Amateurs transcend mastery of the 12-beat rhythm of flamenco. Only Amateurs are experts of what’s truly important — the call and the beat of one’s own heart.
All hail the Amateur!
What do you think of amateurs? Are you one?