Living in Beta
One of the harder things for many of us to get our minds around — myself included — is the idea that nothing we do is actually finished. This is particularly difficult when applied to things we think are more or less set: our knowledge base, our style, our language, our sense of culture. These are the things we lean into for a sense of who we are. (massive credit to Irma Zandl for giving me the idea of Living in Beta. Check out her Opinionator blog here and get her newsletter. It’s great.)
The uncomfortable fact is that we live in a world of speed. Velocity counts. You can either choose to embrace it, which is hard work, or you can choose to disengage. If you pick the latter — which is a perfectly reasonable choice — at whatever moment you decide to check out, that will be the moment you fossilize. Again, perfectly reasonable, but understand what is going to happen. If you are an AGEIST reader, you have probably already chosen the more engaged path, which is to live in a constant state of beta: nothing is ever fixed. Someone like Beatrix Ost thrives in this state. But this can be hard. It is truly difficult to be our age and every day have to understand that a lot of what enters your life you will need to be a beginner at. Personally, I find being a beginner humiliating; I would vastly prefer to be an expert at everything, just telling everyone how much I know about X,Y, Z. But that’s not my reality.
Our eyes and brains don’t actually process all the visual information we see. The brain assumes that most input is redundant from second to second, and it only processes the new information at the very center of the eye — useful in a dense forest for identifying the animal that is your planned dinner. This is essentially how we were wired. The jungle path didn’t change too often: our hunter/gatherer knowledge base wasn’t growing dramatically day to day, our tribal network was more or less fixed at a few dozen people. We also had a life span of about 30. In our world today, to constantly be open to new and vastly expanding pools of knowledge and experiences requires real effort.
This is what I know: say yes. Just say yes to everything. Fight the urge to dismiss that which is already known. Embrace the thrill of the new, whatever it is. Living in beta is a learned skill. It’s hard, it’s humiliating, and you have a choice not to do it. Maybe just try saying yes to everything for one week. Read, see, listen to new things for a week. Try it. It’s probably how you lived decades ago when being a beginner was your whole world.