A recruiter called me a dilettante at 8 a.m. on a Monday after I had already been up for two hours working on a time-sensitive deliverable for a client before I had to shower and head into the city for my full-time job.
I wasn’t looking for anything new, but she reached out to me on LinkedIn, and I decided she seemed interesting enough to skip breakfast over. And hey, I might learn something.
I had discovered long ago in life that a connection doesn’t necessarily provide anything but a lesson.
And boy, did I get one.
Pleasantries aside, the recruiter wanted to know why my professional resume started in 2013 when I had graduated from college in 2009. I told her that I had come to New York to be a performer and, like many others before me, decided to do something else after a while.
But then she began to pry.
Did I miss performing? Like an ex-girlfriend. Do I have regrets? Like old friends. Do I still want to do it? I prefer to write, and all that entails—but it’s nice to know I can sing in a couple of languages.
And then came the kicker. After all that, she informed me that she once wanted to play professionally in an orchestra. She then plucked apart my resume—which I am proud of—and proceeded to call me a dilettante. That I “needed focus.” (I did at least remind her she reached out to me.)
She suggested I go to work in corporate America for potentially a quarter more of the salary but half the soul and then clicked off.
But all that stuck with me for the rest of the week was the word “dilettante.” I knew what the word meant and its negative connotations, but I also am curious about etymology, so I wanted to look it up—and came across this:
1733, borrowing of Italian dilettante “lover of music or painting,” from dilettare “to delight,” from Latin delectare (see delight (n.)). Originally without negative connotation, “devoted amateur,” the pejorative sense emerged late 18c. by contrast with professional.
The article goes on to pull a quote by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (gesundheit), a famous social psychologist and New York Times bestseller of “Flow”, who wrote:
“There are two words whose meanings reflect our somewhat warped attitudes toward levels of commitment to physical or mental activities. These are the terms amateur and dilettante. Nowadays these labels are slightly derogatory. An amateur or a dilettante is someone not quite up to par, a person not to be taken very seriously, one whose performance falls short of professional standards. But originally, “amateur,” from the Latin verb amare, “to love,” referred to a person who loved what he was doing. Similarly a “dilettante,” from the Latin delectare, “to find delight in,” was someone who enjoyed a given activity. The earliest meanings of these words therefore drew attention to experiences rather than accomplishments; they described the subjective rewards individuals gained from doing things, instead of focusing on how well they were achieving. Nothing illustrates as clearly our changing attitudes toward the value of experience as the fate of these two words. There was a time when it was admirable to be an amateur poet or a dilettante scientist, because it meant that the quality of life could be improved by engaging in such activities. But increasingly the emphasis has been to value behavior over subjective states; what is admired is success, achievement, the quality of performance rather than the quality of experience. Consequently, it has become embarrassing to be called a dilettante, even though to be a dilettante is to achieve what counts most—the enjoyment one’s actions provide.”
…and I do enjoy my actions.
And maybe that’s what chafed this recruiter—that she saw potential but didn’t know how to box it. I choose to look at it that way.
But then that led me to wonder: why do we celebrate individuals who come from boxes when they come up with “out-of-the-box” ideas? My curiosity is the reason why I am successful. Wanting more, yes, but successful nonetheless.
Why do you have to reach a certain level before it’s perceived as “appropriate” to dabble?
I filed that under just another rich, white, boomer axiom until I came across this on Twitter:
so basically pete buttigieg is the IRL version of netflix’s ‘the politician’ pic.twitter.com/jKcQRXimTQ— shereen (@shereeny) November 30, 2019
In it are screenshots from a Twitter account of someone who claims to have attended elementary school with Democratic primary candidate Pete Buttigieg. Now politics aside (I know, not in this day and age), this individual, whose handle is @bagofmoons, lambasts Buttigieg for “wanting with his entire soul, for his whole entire life, to be president.”
There have been other articles put out that have said it less pointedly that Buttigieg’s entire life has been calcuated for the presidency.
And to this I say, well… I honestly have nothing to say. I just throw my hands into the air. Because if I’m not allowed to be curious about a lot of things and someone is not allowed to be laser-focused on one without mutual criticism, then there’s no winning anywhere.
Before I wrote this, I kvetched about being called a dilettante to my wife. She reminded me of the figure of speech, “Jack of all trades, master of none—”
“—Yeah, yeah, I know,” I huffed, cutting her off. “That’s basically what a dilettante is.”
This is before I had looked up the word’s etymology and been enlightened by Csikszentmihalyi (gesundheit).
“You didn’t let me finish. Do you know how it really ends? It got cut short. It actually goes, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.'”
And that’s why I married her.