Don’t Be Afraid to Be An Amateur.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be An Amateur.

Photo by Elliott Pak (@elliottpak)

Written by Elliott Pak


Go Listen To:

the new alt-j single. wow.

“I just want to love you in my own language.”

-alt-j (3WW)



Today’s topic is about something that’s helped me grow more as a person in the past few months than I have in my entire life. It’s changed how I view myself and how I view the world. It’s changed every thought I’ve had about what my career should be and how I will be going about the rest of my life. All just personal realizations, but maybe it’ll help you too.

Some guy said it on a podcast (big surprise I can’t remember who) BUT I do know who he was talking about. He was saying, if he could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, it would be Ben Franklin.

Ben Franklin. And his reasoning was because….

“he was never afraid to be an amateur.”

Ben Franklin. One of the founding fathers of America. Just a quick recap for everyone else who never listened in history class – he was an author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman and a diplomat. He fucking helped discover electricity. He made the bifocals. Literally life as we know it wouldn’t be the same without him.

[If you’re wondering if I actually remembered all of that or if I just wikipedia’d it, I wikipedia’d it.]

Basically, this man created just about everything, and could have been the most pompous, big-headed motherfucker – and would totally have the credentials to back it up. But no. he was humble as hell, and was never scared to be an amateur – never afraid to be the inexperienced, never afraid to be the new guy to a subject. And because of that, he literally accomplished 100 people’s lifetimes in just one.

This hit me in so many ways, I don’t really know how to start.


Cool Is Overrated.

My entire life, I’ve always tried so fucking hard to be cool. Growing up as a young, nerdy Korean kid with all white people in suburban Orange County, I’m ashamed to admit it, but I think that’s all I really cared about growing up. Being cool, being popular. Not even being smart or good at stuff, like I think I only tried to be smart and good at stuff to be more cool and popular.

To the point where I never asked questions, when I needed questions to be answered. I always wanted to be the guy that already knew how to do everything, never needed help from anyone – just the cool guy who didn’t need anything. Again I’m ashamed to admit I think I’ve been like this my entire life, up until a couple months ago.

Man, what a fucking waste of time that was.

It only took traveling to the other side of the world to realize that being open to being an amateur at things is really just the first step to EVERYTHING good – ANY kind of growth that you want to experience. There are so many things in my life that I just refused to do because I would be the noob. I’d be the older kid in the class.

Another kid I met on my travels said it in pretty clear way. “I fucking hate being bad at things.”

yeah me too. But more because I just don’t want to look like I’m bad at things.


It’s Never Too Late.

I’ll give one example. probably the scariest thing for me to do. This blog. Starting this blog, putting myself out there, was insanely scary to me. I’ve been saying I was going to start a blog for years. But I kept putting it off, because I didn’t want my blog to be shit, I didn’t want people to judge me, I was just scared to be new to something. I already knew people who had a blog, so I already wouldn’t be the best. So why even try. (such a stupid way to look at life)

But I finally did it, and it was the most liberating thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know how to emphasize that any more. The most liberating thing I have ever done in my life. I discovered a way to express myself more than I ever have before. Even more than music.

After hearing that, and going back to my original reasoning for not starting this blog – how fucking stupid do I sound? I was scared that I wouldn’t be as good as other people. Fuck that. No one’s as good as other people. If you really care about your own personal growth, you’re not comparing yourself to other people. You’re comparing yourself to the person you were yesterday. That’s the only person you need to be better than.

One conversation I always have with people is how I started playing guitar, instruments, yada. And the conversation ALWAYS starts, “man, I wish I could play the guitar.” and then they say “damn, you started so early, and I’m already [however many years] old.” And every fucking time I tell them, “its not too late! It’s never too late to fall in love with something new. Also, when I started playing, I already thought I was too old. And than I found out that Jack Johnson (the reason why I started playing guitar), was even older than me when he started.”

Like what, you’re too old to be as good as who? Fucking Eric Clapton? Yeah no shit, you probably won’t be as good as Eric Clapton. But you’ll be a hell of a lot better at guitar than the you that couldn’t play guitar a year ago. And that’s all that really matters right? Do what you say you want to do – it’s what you want to do. It’s only going to make you better and happier.

When I was in college I always really respected those people in my classes that were in their 40’s or 50’s or 60’s, taking the same classes as me, learning the same things as me. Fully putting your ego aside to better yourself.

If you really care, it’s not too late. It is literally never too late.

If you DON’T really care enough to start – stop talking about it. You’re just stringing yourself and whoever you’re talking to along. Don’t be that guy who keeps saying he’s going to do something and never does.

OR do it. Ask tons of questions to people who already do it. Research how to start. Be an amateur. Be the little kid, asking how to do something.

I literally freed myself from trying to be cool. How fucking corny does that sound? I already have a list of all the things I’m going to start learning or taking classes in when I go home. (elliott, when is that….?)

I feel like society kind of teaches us to specialize at something. Oh you’re good at math? Be an accountant. Oh you’re good at science? God forbid you be anything but a doctor. Tunnel-vision in on one thing, cause if you try too many different things, you’re spreading yourself out too thin, you’re wasting time.

Honestly if someone asked me what I specialize in now, no way I’d have an answer for them. I’m like kind of okay at a buncha things, but I’m not really great at any one thing. And honestly right now I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m trying to experience all the things I can – eat everything I can – see all the places I can – meet all the people I can; because how the hell am I supposed to know what I’m most passionate about – what my favorite food is – where I should live for the rest of my life – who my soulmate is – if I’m only tunnel vision’d onto one thing instead of throwing my fishnet out to the entire world?

I don’t know anything about things I don’t know about. I only know the things I knew before. Before I learned the new things I know now. Does that make sense?

Listen, I know everyone doesn’t feel like this – it’s just a personal opinion. I understand if we’re different people and with different opinions, and I respect that.


How Exposure to Failure Opened My Eyes

But here’s the personal revelation that this whole “don’t be afraid to be an amateur” thing led me to. I think it will surprise a lot of people that are close to me, because it surprised me.

My entire life, I’ve been passionate about music – grew up playing piano, drums, bass, guitar, vocals, was in a band, still write music to this day, am obsessed with music culture and festivals, yada. So my entire life, the dream has always to be a successful musician or someone successful in the business. Big surprise, I wanted to be a rock star.

But my dad always used to tell me, “don’t put all your eggs in that basket. Learn business properly, and you can always have music as a hobby.”

MAN that used to always piss me off. “THIS IS MY DREAM, DAD, YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND.” [hair-flip over my eyes]

Never understood it, never even considered not having music be my profession. But listened anyway. I did study business, and hospitality, and event management, and actually did gain a serious love for all of them. So at that point, I did really thank my parents for pushing me towards them, because now I really enjoy all of these things, and have skills in different fields. So the next step in the plan was combining the new skills with old loves. So leaving college, I reached for the first festival and music-related jobs I could, because, y’know, those are what (I thought) I was meant to do, or those were my only skills and such.

But I wasn’t happy. I didn’t like the music industry as much as I thought I would. The festival industry either. Fucking hated the nightlife industry. It’s so funny to me how whenever you start to work in an industry, you kinda start to see the dark underbelly of it.

I think that’s what happened to me. I kind of lost some of the magic of music, seeing how the industry worked – how so many amazing, authentic musicians and people in general got swept under the rug, how so many disingenuous people made it to the top for shitty, superficial reasons. That’s as far as I’ll go about that.

I realized….

I never want to lose my passion for music. I never want to lose my child-like wonder of the music industry. So my big revelation was…I don’t need to work in the music industry. I love it so fucking much. And that’s why I don’t need to be a part of it. I don’t want to attach money to it. I just want to share my music and my love for music with people, no strings attached, no responsibilities. I just want to love it like a little kid does.

[sidenote to all my friends crushing it in any of the industries I mentioned – im beyond happy for you. and shouts to my old drummer David Delaney, who actually is a rock star now – go look up Them Evils. So much respect to everyone who pushes through the bullshit to make it.]

wow. actually writing that just now made it so much more real. And some people might think its sad – like somehow I’m giving up on a dream, but I don’t see it like that at all. I think it’s really liberating. Like I’m preserving one thing I love, and getting a second chance to discover other things I never would have imagined before. Back to the amateur thing. There are so many things I don’t know how to do! I’ve spent so much of my life tunnel-vision’d on just a few things, just a few careers, cause that’s what I was supposed to do, that I never even considered all the other things I could be doing. I mean I just discovered how much I love writing like five seconds after I quit my jobs. Who knows what I’ll discover if I give it like, ten seconds.

So silly to think you might be too old to try something new. It’s never too late.

So to sum up this whole little section in a short few sentences. I’ve honestly never heard of someone else going through this, so it might just be me, but in a way, my “dream job” was kind of a form of shackles for me, in that it limited me from trying other things. I still have all the love for it in the world, but me saying that something was my only career choice when I hadn’t even experienced a fraction of what the world offers, was just a bit naïve of me. I haven’t experienced nearly enough shit in my life. Does that make sense?

Maybe writing is what I’m supposed to do. Who knows. I’ve only tried like 4 things in my life. The possibilities are endless.


Jump Off the Cliff.

These are the main points I learned from “not being afraid to be an amateur.”

  • ask tons of questions. about everything. even the stupid ones. I think our teachers were lying when they said “there are no stupid questions.” there are tons of stupid questions. who gives a fuck, I’m still going to ask them anyway.
  • I don’t personally think you should have to specialize in just one thing, but everyone’s different. Shit, Ben Franklin did a lot more than one thing.
  • things you’ve never done are scary, but are huge opportunities. You literally could be amazing at something, but never know because you didn’t try.
  • You gotta drop your ego. You gotta be a little vulnerable to start something new. No one likes fucking up because of inexperience, but literally every person you look up to did at some point. Everyone was an amateur at one time or another.

My entire life, I’ve been told, “wow, you act so mature for your age” or something along those lines. That had always been my favorite compliment. And now it’s literally the opposite. I feel like I spent so much time trying to portray that image to people – that I didn’t even spend the time trying to just be a little, new, amateur kid at things. And now that I’m doing it, I feel like a brand new person.

Right now, at age 23 – this is the youngest I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I feel like a little kid, with bright, shiny eyes, looking at the world with the hope and wonder of a 10 year old who has just been told “you can be anything you want to be.”

I’ll end it with saying none of this shit is easy. It was really hard for me. Jumping off cliffs is terrifying, until you actually jump off, and then look back, and go “wow, probably shoulda done that earlier.” But…

fucking glad I did it now.



Man, it was really, really, hard to leave Cambodia. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to leave somewhere less. But I said my goodbyes to many great friends, both locals and travelers, and headed over the border to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon), Vietnam. The city is wild and beautiful and busy. Great food. But another very sobering day today was going to the War Remnants Museum here – basically a museum of all the atrocities and war crimes American soldiers did to Vietnamese civilians. Horrifying. But what’s even more horrifying is how little I learned about the Vietnam War in school. I don’t know why I remember this so clearly but in one grade, in one of my history textbooks, there was literally 2 paragraphs about the Vietnam War. WTF? In Germany, every student learns about all the horrifying things that happened in ww2. So why aren’t we learning about all the horrible things we did in Vietnam? I really hope I was just not paying attention in class, instead of our school system not teaching us about our own fuck-ups.

Anyway, Saigon was fucking awesome, I already miss it. Now I’m in a nature-y forest city in the higher altitudes called Dalat. Fucking beautiful. First time in ages I’ve been out of the heat. I wore jeans today.

The little things, man.




6 thoughts on “Don’t Be Afraid to Be An Amateur.”

    • Hi Mimi! I’ve always wanted to go to Romania. Yeah, it’s tough in today’s society that is constantly teaching people that superficial things are more important than authenticity. But when you meet really authentic people, it definitely shows. Thanks for reading!

  • Hi Elliott, I came across your blog from the Tiny Buddha article I got in my email and I just wanted to say you’re definitely not alone. My whole life I’ve had a fear of failure and not wanting to be terrible at things!
    I’m 22 and just starting to overcome these fears, which as you know, isn’t easy. But I wanted to say thank you for writing this article because it has helped me open my eyes and mind even more that it’s completely okay to feel like this. I hope you do keep writing and exploring life, it gives people a lot of hope. And I hope that people continue to find your blog because you give great advice!

    • Hi Beth! Thanks for the comment! Tell me about it, I’ve always been the same way too. Looking back, it’s a weird lesson to learn that not enough people really talk about, but kind of just realizing it and being aware of it is honestly the biggest step forward, and trust me when I say it gets easier and easier as time goes on. Good luck with everything, would love to hear more about your explorations as well. Thanks for the kind words!

    • Hi Larry! Funny how we randomly come upon things like this. Appreciate you reading the article, and thanks for finding me the podcast link! Thanks again for the kind words.

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