“Resolve to be always beginning–to be a beginner!” -Rainer Maria Rilke
Whatever else I’m working on, I think I’d like to keep adopting new habits so that I’m always a beginner at something.
A few weeks ago, I got to hear Professor Robert Sapolsky discuss when and why human beings stop doing new things. He’s done a lot of research. He called radio stations and asked for the average age of their listeners, and the average age of their music. Most people, it seems, cement their musical tastes by age 20, and if you haven’t explored a type of music by the time you’re 35, you probably never will. He talked to sushi restaurants. On average, the people he studied tried sushi around 25–and if you haven’t tried sushi by 35, you probably never will. He talked to piercing parlors: the average age for getting a tongue stud is 18, and if you haven’t by 21, you probably never will. Our openness to novelty seems to shut down with age. Highly creative people usually get less creative over time, and they usually get less open to other people’s creativity.
But that wasn’t a conclusion: that was a step along the way. (There were lots of steps, all fascinating and off-putting and hilarious–fascinating because he helped me understand my mind’s mechanisms, off-putting because those mechanisms have more influence that many of us would like to think, hilarious because life is funny and so is Sapolsky. I need to watch more of his lectures). His research suggests there are lots of other factors that either shut down your interest in novelty–or keep you curious. One of the worst “no new stuff” forces, hilariously, is becoming eminent in your field: the more eminent you are, the less likely you are to accept new advancements in what you’re supposed to already understand. The opposite is true, too–if you happily and purposefully switch fields, and start learning something new, your interest in novelty tends to reset.
All that makes a lot of sense to me (at least, it does now that Dr. Sapolsky explained it), and it brings me back to Rilke. Being a beginner reminds us that there’s more to learn. It puts us in a place of not knowing, and gives us the opportunity to make that into a fun place to be. So I want to learn a song on the piano, and take some dance lessons. I want to try painting, and make something out of porcelain. I won’t ever make money with those things. I won’t become a master. I might be a bit of a better person, a bit happier, and a bit more open to something new–because I’m a beginner, beginning, and there’s so much to wander through.