The Professional versus The Amateur

I used to tell my students, “The difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional gets paid.”

Well, yes and no. But it’s not that simple.

To explain myself, let me tell you about my fence. When we moved to Texas in 1998, we had a fence on one side of our back yard that was falling down, and on the other side there was nothing. Since we have dogs that don’t have the common sense to stay on our property, I decided it was my responsibility to put up new fences. The side that had a collapsing fence also had neighbors with lots of animals and a propensity to throw loud parties. So we decided we needed to put up another six-foot privacy fence.

I was 45 at the time, had lots of energy (at least more than I have now) and went about putting up the fence on my own. I didn’t pour cement footings, but did use a manual post-hole digger to put in wooden posts every eight feet. Then I used eight-foot pine panels to finish the project. It looked good–or at least I thought it did.

The years went by and the elements started taking their toll on the fence. It separated multiple time at the posts and I had to patch and repatch it. The posts themselves came out of the ground. For years I kept propping the fence up. Then finally, about three years ago, we decided that the fence had lived its life. I am now in my sixties, and despite my own stubbornness, my wife convinced me to hire a company to come in and put in a professional fence.

They did in two days what had taken me two weeks. They poured concrete footings, put in metal posts, and used cedar panels where I had used pine. It was expensive, but they did a wonderful job.

A couple of months ago, our neighbor on the other side asked if I was interested in putting up the same kind of fence on his side of the property. In the past few years, there have been more and more burglaries and he had equipment in his back yard. He was so eager to have a fence that he offered to split the cost of materials with me. I also learned that he and the two young men that worked for him built fences all the time.

An early-morning picture of this week’s project. Nice looking, isn’t it?

So this Thanksgiving week, we have been building a fence. I have learned a lot about building fences, and reminded about the difference between being an amateur and being a professional. Because it’s true that a professional gets paid when an amateur does not, but that’s only part of the story. Because it’s his livelihood, a professional depends on his reputation. It’s critical that they do the job right, that they pay attention to details, that they know the little secret tricks that means the difference between “that’s good enough” and “wow, that looks great.”

I want my books to look professional, and considering the competition out there, it’s important that they do so. How about you?