We’ve talked about liminality before.

Liminality is about being in the middle of a rite of passage. It’s about being on the threshold of a big life event. A temporary, in-between state. After the transition, you’ll look back and divide your life into before and after this event. Your first day of school is liminal. Your first week after moving to a new place is liminal. Sometimes, the liminal period can last for a while until you finally settle into a new way of being.

A few thoughts from last time:

  • The good part of liminal experiences is that it gets you to try new things. If you only stick to what you know well, then you eventually get bulldozed by people who make riskier bets, because if you get enough people making risky bets then sooner or later someone’s bet is going to pay off. See also: explore-exploit tradeoff.
  • The bad part of liminal experiences is when the change is too much, too fast. You get overwhelmed with too much new information to actually properly what to do. By the time you’ve figured it out, new information comes in and your decision is outdated. See also: OODA loop.
  • Big, chaotic, world-shaking events produce a lot of liminality because they turn the world upside down.
    • The good news is that they’re big, chaotic, world-shaking events, so we get the chance to improve on what we took for granted. Systems that we thought couldn’t change suddenly seem very changeable.
    • The bad news is that, well, they’re big, chaotic, world-shaking events, so things can also get worse.

The open question from last time, then: can we choose our liminal experiences instead of being swept along into them? How might we risk without risking ruin? How might we shake our worldview without shaking the world?

In liminal times, the most important skill is making judgement calls when you’re not sure what’s going to happen. If you wait until you’re absolutely sure, it’s already too late. “No conclusive evidence” for something doesn’t mean you should ignore it– it means you should trust your instincts (because if there’s no outside evidence telling you to change your mind, then your instincts are the best guide you have).

Waiting for certainty is like waiting until you read a peer-reviewed study titled “Jumping From Airplanes Without Parachutes Considered Harmful” before changing your skydiving habits.

Social circles, by default, self-regulate so that no member rises too far. Your current circle has some idea of what you’re capable of right now, and usually the result is that they’ll actively discourage you from aiming higher. It’s possible to override this, but it’s not how we humans work by default. Sometimes the discouragement is when someone explicitly tells you that you can’t. Other times it comes from through subtle social pressure (have you ever heard anyone make fun of “try-hards”?).


See? He gets it.

Strangers have no idea what you’re capable of, though. Making new friends in completely different social circles has gotten easier and easier with the internet being around. There’s always uncertainty when it comes to meeting strangers, and this is where acting under uncertainty comes in. Being able to protect yourself from dangers while still taking the risk of encountering new people is the key.

A stranger from halfway across the world has no particular expectations. Being around them is permission to get a little wild and aim high and chase your moonshot and ride your spaceship to the heavens.

Oh, and you get to pick the crew you ride with.