Living in Beta

Beta, in the tech world, refers to a phase of software development where a product is still considered incomplete and bugs and errors are expected, but it is released to a limited number of users known as “beta testers” who provide feedback to the developers who can then further improve their product.

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And, turns out, the idea of a beta phase can be pretty useful when applied to oh, I don’t know, LITERALLY ANY ASPECT OF YOUR LIFE.

That’s why I was so excited when I stumbled upon this concept a few days ago.  I honestly think it has the real potential to change my outlook on life (who am I kidding?  it already has) and how I conduct myself in general, which feels like a huge breakthrough in personal development for me.

Just last week, I found myself questioning whether or not we actually get wiser as we go through life, fumbling and making mistakes that we eventually hope to learn something from.

Living in beta is the idea that we are always going to be an imperfect, unfinished version of ourselves–because, let’s face it, there will always be more to learn, more to understand, ways we can improve ourselves or our lives–and even in the face of that slightly disturbing realization, we still have to put ourselves out there for the world to see.

Incomplete.  Imperfect.  Vulnerable.  In beta.

There is no endpoint where we can suddenly sit back and say, “Yes!  This is it, I’m PERFECT.  My work here is done.”  Life doesn’t work that way, and if we hold back until we feel we are “perfect” at something or “ready” to share our talents with the world (we may never feel 100% “ready”), we slow our progression, we stagnate, or we settle for mediocrity.

It’s easy to see how much can be achieved by embracing the idea of living in a beta phase when we look at one high-profile example–Google.  I recently learned that Google has their very own “graveyard,” or a list of the programs the company developed that ultimately failed and were discontinued (think: Google Health, Google Buzz, and most recently, Google Reader).  There are dozens of Google ghosts already on the list, and it will undoubtedly continue to grow.

Do all these failed products mean that Google as a company is a failure?  ABSOLUTELY NOT (I’d ask Larry Page, but he’s probably busy donating some of his billions to charity).  They try new products, they receive feedback from their users, and they adapt the products accordingly.  Sometimes they flop anyway, but Google knows when to abandon an idea and start again with something new.  They keep moving forward, even if it means letting some of their beloved ideas fizzle out.  In fact, they celebrate these failures and view them as a sign of progress.

So, how can this idea apply to one’s personal life, you ask?

Well, the most obvious example for me is this blog you’re reading right now.  If you’ve been with me since the beginning about 6 months ago, I’m sure you’ve noticed how much the blog has changed over time.  This blog is, and always will be, in beta.  I’m constantly going to be experimenting with the design, the formatting, my content and writing style, all in the name of improvement.  (I thank you all for participating as beta testers.)  Some of the stuff I try on here is bound to suck–I’m sure some of it already does–but instead of retreating from the blogosphere with my tail tucked between my legs, I will blunder on and try something new.

I can also apply the idea of living in beta to learning languages.  I’ve always struggled with the idea of being imperfect when speaking Spanish.  I pride myself on my eloquence in my native language, and the idea of sounding less than intelligent in a different one absolutely terrifies me.  I know this fear has always held me back from really putting myself out there, which only keeps me from improving.  I’m not fluent, but I never will be either if I can’t accept the fact that my Spanish is in beta and it’s okay to make mistakes.

It can even apply to personal relationships; think of the people around you as your beta testers, and be mindful of the feedback you get from them.  If a relationship doesn’t work out, take the time to examine the reason(s) behind its failure.  Was there something about the other person that pushed you away?  Were you not in the right place emotionally for a commitment?  Whatever the reason, learn from it and apply it to your next relationship.

The one thing we must never do is allow our failures to defeat us; we must try again (and again, and again), and when we do, we’ll only be better prepared to handle what comes our way.

I love how versatile this concept is and how it can be applied to so many scenarios.  As cheesy as it may sound, coming across this idea of living in beta felt like a true epiphany for me, and I feel confident it will provide me with much-needed encouragement in those moments when I have reservations about living imperfectly.

If it makes sense to you, too, and you want to delve deeper, here are some resources that I found useful in expounding on the topic:

This blog: Beta Bay

On Living in Beta: How To Test, Fail And Learn At Life And Work

This TED talk:

 “The final stage of learning is the realization that we have so much more to learn.” -Molly Schroeder, TEDxBurnsvilleED

Feedback and comments on this post are wholeheartedly encouraged!  I’d love to hear about how you’re living in beta and about other real-life applications I haven’t thought of yet.

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About Leah Davis

Hey! I'm Leah. I'm a solo traveler letting my heart lead me around the world, one country at a time. I've taught English in Thailand, climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge, gone skydiving in Argentina, and marveled at the ruins at Machu Picchu (twice!). I love maps, strong coffee, good wine and warm climates. For even more travel talk and inspiration, you can follow my adventures on Twitter or Instagram.
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