I like knowing stuff
I like knowing the ropes, talking shop, having the answers.
I like being right.
I also like Ray Bradbury.
Mr. Bradbury didn’t go to college. He never got an MFA in writing. Never lived in the literary metropolis of New York City
He went to Los Angeles High School. And he went to the library. He loved libraries. Loved reading: L. Frank Baum. Edgar Allen Poe.
“The library,” he told The Paris Review, “has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.”
And it was through his interpretations, his discoveries that he brought Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and Something Wicked This Way Comes into the world.
On paper, Mr. Bradbury didn’t do the right things to be a writer: He didn’t have the pedigree, didn’t know the ropes, didn’t talk shop.
But off paper and in person - the dimension that matters most - he had conviction unconstrained by convention.
It’s one of the perks of being an amateur. And it’s easy to forget when we’re thinking about plunging into something new.
We can sit on the diving board, looking at all the swimmers. And we can think, “No way can I stay afloat in this pool. I don’t have their know-how, their credentials.”
That may be true. But it’s not the only truth at the pool yard.
Because what got us to the diving board, what got us peeking out into the unknown are a curiosity and a desire to know more of the world than we know now. It’s the same thing that got Mr. Bradbury to the library.
And that curiosity, that desire is just as true as all the swimmers and all their know-how.
So, when we find ourselves on the diving board, we must choose the truth we answer to: The conventional narrative saying, “No way. No how. You have no clue how to do this.” Or that still, small voice in us saying, “Go. Do it.”
That voice will upend and unsettle our status quo (which Deb encourages us to question anyway). It will hurl us beyond the world that we know. Hurl us out where we don’t know the ropes or the answers. Out where we’ll be wrong more than we’ll be right.
But if we listen to that voice, we will have chosen to take the shape of our lives into our own hands. Rather than let society shape it for us
We will fumble. And we will fail. Such is the amateur’s territory. But we will earn our fumbles and our failures knowing, as Joan Didion knew, that “people with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes.” And self-respect is one of the finest perks of being an amatuer.
I carry Mr. Bradbury’s story close. To remind me of the person I want to be.
I know what it’s like to walk away from the diving board. To walk away from that still, small voice. To disqualify myself because I’m inexperienced and uncredentialed.
Walking away takes me back to where I know the ropes and right answers. Back where it’s nice and safe.
But to take a page from poet John Shedd: “A ship is safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.”
We hold too much in us, we have too much to give to spend our life kicking around the same old docks gathering the same old barnacles.
We were meant to go out and get some wind in our sails. To cast out into unknown, perhaps uncharted waters. To see what the world has to hold, to give what we have to give. To, as Deb says, rush to discover it all.
Which brings me to the last - though by no means final - perk of being an amateur.
It forces us to grow.
When we don’t know the waters, we can get torn open by vulnerability, the rawness of being out of our nest.
And growth, that uncomfortable, incredible force where we rebuild our torn selves anew, is how we move ourselves and how we move our world forward.
Life’s a whole lot bigger than having answers and being right.
Life - real big life - is about living with conviction unconstrained by convention. It’s about self-respect. And kindness. It’s about growing every bit of our brains and our heart that we can grow. And life is about being an amateur again and again and again.
On this subject, Mr. Bradbury gets the final word:
“Jump off the cliff and learn how to make wings on the way down.”
Caitie Whelan is the Founder/Noter-in-Chief of The Lightning Notes, a short daily post to help us move the world forward. It features striking ideas and great stories to remind us that we matter and improving the world is our matter. Prior to The Lightning Notes, she was a Senior Foreign Policy Advisor in Congress, co-founded a school in India for lower caste musicians, and raised pigs in Italy. She is a graduate of Brown University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Caitie is a 2007 Truman Scholar from the Great State of Maine.