What is a Professional Enthusiast?

February 25, 2014 / by Bonnie MacBird / 15


Welcome to my blog, THE PROFESSIONAL ENTHUSIAST. What does that mean?

In THE SIGN OF FOUR, John Watson says of Sherlock Holmes:  “I had not the professional enthusiasm which carried my companion on.”  This refers to the crazy-ass energy, focus and intensity which propels the Great Detective when he’s on a case. Of course, Watson can’t keep up, nobody can. Sherlock Holmes is a professional enthusiast.

A professional enthusiast has purpose but is not simply about the result. Of course Holmes passionately wants to solve the case —but he also  “plays the game for the game’s own sake.”  He rarely takes credit, and famously turns down a knighthood in yet another adventure.  (See the story listed below.)

Odd, right? Who would turn down a knighthood?  But…commitment without regard for reward can net you surprising rewards.

NureyevGoing full tilt on a professional enthusiasm seems wacky but maybe isn’t.  As a small child, I loved to dance, but flunked ballet.  In junior high, I saw Rudolf Nureyev get 23 curtain calls and fell in love with ballet again,  tried and failed again.  Years later, watching the great Baryshnikov, I fell in love for the third time.  I longed to soar, but at a creaky 45, that train had long since left the station.  But the heart wants what it wants, and I still wanted… ballet.  What might a “professional enthusiasm” for ballet look like?

First I looked closely at what pros do. How do they “live” ballet? Dancers not only take care of their bodies but they also take class, usually every day. I found a beginner class, crammed this into my daily schedule, and while I definitely “thudded” more than “soared”, these classes netted me a more fit, flexible, and graceful body, improved posture and sensitivity to music. I read about ballet and dancers’ lives, studied the history, listened to the music, even stretched my toes by hand while watching television.

BaryshnikovSuddenly the experience of going to the ballet took on a whole new dimension  (Wow!  Feel those mirror neurons firing!) I watched my idol with new appreciation.  Okay, laugh away.  But try it!

I have been a professional writer for years. I even teach writing.  But for all this time,  my desire to be  “a published and successful novelist ” so intimidated me that I never finished the books I started.  But when I changed that goal to “let’s see if I can knock out a VERY ROUGH but complete first draft of a novel in thirty days”, it made all the difference.  My professional enthusiast kicked in and it suddenly was a game…all about speed, focus, and letting go.  Writing became what psychologist Mikhali Csikszentmihalyi calls an “autotelic” activity, fun for its own sake.  It was only a rough draft after all.  And the goal was number of words, not perfection.

Getting that rough draft done was the game changer.  Now after eighteen months of rewrites,my Sherlock Holmes novel ART IN THE BLOOD will be published later this year.  I kept my “professional enthusiast” engaged by constantly changing up the game and redefining short term goals.   Full-tilt engagement.  Fun.  But it does require commitment, and passion.

Professional enthusiasm is the opposite of  “meh”.  It is as unironic as you can get.

Most of our experience outside of work is a consumer experience.  We passively inhale movies, music, TV, and video games.  But focused participation  in something challenging that you love ups your game in so many ways. You are learning and we humans are wired to learn. My husband, Alan Kay, calls this kind of learning “hard fun”.

My next blog will explore the dual professional enthusiasms that led to my novel ART IN THE BLOOD — and how I turned a personal Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month)  into a book, all initiated by reconnecting to a childhood passion. And future blogs will explore other passions, and ways to develop your own creative processes and sense of fun.

Life gets a lot more interesting when you are a professional enthusiast.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Read FLOW by Mikhail Csiksentmihalyi

Read “The Bruce Partington Plans” by Arthur Conan Doyle

Read about Alan Kay and “hard fun”




  1. Kim Treger says:

    Loved your book. We need more witty Holmes pastiches!

  2. colette says:

    Professional enthusiasm is the opposite of “meh”. It is as unironic as you can get. = my NEW FAVORITE QUOTE! Bravo Bonnie, excellent post!

  3. Gee, Bonnie 🙂 Having your sensitive and heartfelt insight available as you create and succeed, in this uncharted sea, is a beacon in the night. Thank you, for this elegant experience.

    Loyally, Michelle

  4. Samara Bay says:

    What a lovely post, and fantastic embarkment on the voyage of blogging!! I can’t wait to read more, and will be forever grateful for your wisdom: in your writing and in your life, you are a fabulous teacher. Thank you!!

  5. Patty says:

    Welcome to the blogisphere! Great post. Great book. Looking forward…

  6. Claire Bloom Benedek says:

    Bonnie, you really are an inspiration! Your intelligence and enthusiasm is contagious. I remember you taking my ballet class, and I was always amazed and thrilled at the achievements of my adult students. I understood, because I started ballet at age 19, when everyone told me I was too old to consider it professionally. Bottom line: I enjoyed a 20 year career. There’s something awesome about challenging oneself to do that which is terrifying, but it can lead to the most unexpected joy. And, if it turns out to be less than we’d hoped, at least we tried. And the effort remains sublime.

  7. Dear Bonnie

    What a wonderful start of your blog! Your phrase ” my desire to be “a published and successful novelist ” so intimidated me that I never finished the books I started” really resonated with me. Over the years I had found excuses for NOT publishing a book but this year I took the plunge and it’s liberating! Publishing my second booknow and looking forward to reading ART IN THE BLOOD.

  8. Hollie Overton says:

    Congrats Bonnie. This is so inspiring. I am tackling my first novel and sometimes find myself overwhelmed. I look forward to reading your blog and finding new ways to spark my own enthusiasm.

  9. Mary P. says:

    “Professional enthusiast” is a wonderful phrase and description, and if anyone ever thinks “fan” is pejorative, from now on I will just say “Or, professional enthusiast, if you prefer.”

    But I think there’s a huge difference between “fan” and “professional enthusiast” – and it’s as you say, that we professional enthusiasts let our passionate interests lead us to ever more knowledge and more creative outlets. I wasn’t just a “fan” of my favorite TV show when I was in college – I plunged in and did their newsletter (this was before the Internet – it was an actual paper newsletter!), and connected with the producers and received official status, and got several free trips to visit them on location and write about my experiences. And later — like you — I met Rudolf Nureyev and saw him perform, and was suddenly plunged into the world of ballet fandom (because that man, as you know, could have that effect in an instant!). And I let that lead me though copious reading on ballet history and endless watching of videos – and that eventually landed me my first real PR job in the arts, essentially because of my knowledge of ballet and dance. I saw RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes films and it brought me right back to my earliest fandom — yup, Sherlock Holmes, like you. But this time I let it lead me to not only re-reading the canon, but reaching out and getting involved with scion societies, and meeting and talking to experts, and even meeting RDJ himself — and then writing my first essay about Holmes (which has now been published in the book “The One Fixed Point in a Changing Age” from Wessex Press – sorry, shameless plug…!), and even trying my wings at fiction again.

    So – professional enthusiasm is just never passive enjoyment – it leads us onward and upward, to bigger and better things, new friends and new enthusiasms, and new worlds. It is, indeed, the opposite of “meh”!

    • Bonnie MacBird says:

      Interesting about the combination of ballet and Sherlock as mutual interests. I do think that a passionate engagement with things usually leads to unexpected benefits — like your first PR job. The result may not be in a straight line from the thing but is often related.

      • Shaina says:

        Can’t wait. Im just a huge fan for the entire idea of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read evyhetring Sir Doyle has read and am a fan of the previous Holmes movie. I think Law and Downey have awesome chemistry as the original Dynamic Duo.

  10. Long an amateur enthusiast, your post motivates me to strive for professionalism. Can’t wait for the book!

  11. Matt says:

    Fun blog. I’m ENTHUSIASTIC about reading this Sherlock Holmes book!


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