Irritate & Inspire

I’m a big believer in the value of maintaining a beginner’s mindset.

This concept can mean different things to different people, but to me, being a beginner means the unabashed embrace of the unknown, the frustration of things you can see but not grasp, the ability to ask questions without social penalty, and a general sense of unlimited potential.

As we learn and grow, and in some cases achieve some kind of credibility or even prestige as knowledgable, capable people, we become less inclined to say “I don’t know.”

This is a socially reinforced tendency, as to some people, admitting ignorance can be construed as an admission of low intelligence or value.

Most of this construal is in our own heads, but there are certain social structures that reinforce this concept, as well. Grading guidelines used by schools, for instance, can unintentionally reinforce this association, as can workplace hierarchies and other systems that reward a particular dimension or interpretation of capability, often to the exclusion of all other possible metrics for the same.

Being able to look out at unfamiliar terrain, though, and bask in its utter unfamiliarity, is a gift.

If we can extract ourselves from the necessity to pretend foreknowledge, and defy the assumption that admitting any knowledge-gaps will lessen us in the eyes of our peers, we thus liberate ourselves to explore, experiment, and endeavor. We retain (or regain) our natural inclination to question, to challenge, to do the “wrong” thing in the pursuit of previously unnoticed or unacknowledged facets of understanding.

Spending less of our time accumulating the trappings of socially defined expertise frees us up to pursue true comprehension and proficiency.

Re-learning how to perceive unknowns as opportunities rather than threats can provide us with jolts of enthusiasm, and grant us access to veins of curiosity that otherwise lay dormant or underutilized.

Asking “why?”, and then asking “why?” again, over and over and over, until the foundations of the foundations of the foundations all come into view and inject context to whatever it is you’re exploring, is likewise vital to this process.

It would be imprudent to model all of our behaviors, in all aspects of life, after children.

But when it comes to digging for the sake of digging, and scrambling to fill in the many blank spaces in our understanding of things, we could do far worse than to reacquire some of our adolescent, unbridled curiosity and accompanying nonacceptance of self-imposed intellectual boundaries.

An appreciation for what we don’t yet know is often paired with a sense of frustration in proportion with that ignorance. Such vexation is almost always a sign that we’re pushing up against the boundaries of our current understanding.

By pushing a little harder, a little more intentionally and in the right places, we can expand those horizons, increasing the size and capacity of our knowledge-kingdoms, unveiling new territory, new boundaries, and exciting new irritants that we can challenge and inspire ourselves with next.

If you found some value in this essay, consider supporting my work by buying me a coffee.

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