Are you an alpha-Yalie or a beta?

There are two types of Yalies. Doubtless you are familiar with the first: directed and ambitious, alpha-Yalies are the stereotypical overachievers. Their lives are consumed with a purpose, whether it be saving the world or ruling it, and the worth of their lives is completely dependent on the fulfillment of this goal. What they study or what they do is irrelevant, as they inhabit all majors and all walks of life. They tend to be sure of only one thing: that they are going somewhere.

Of course, not all alphas succeed to the extent they would wish. While the number of those who do win out in the end tends to be skewed higher here than at other universities, not everyone can be president. For those of you who are honest enough to know you are of this ilk, I’d like to say two things to you. The first is: Why are you reading this stupid column when you could be culturing cells/planting trees/raising campaign money? The second is that you probably won’t succeed. I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings.

Alphas are sort of like risky investors; they put a lot of stock into success in the hopes of actualizing greatness. The flip side is that they open themselves up for the crushing reality of life, where we can’t have everything that we want.

But they are boring. Not because their lives are boring, but because their story has been told a thousand times. If Achilles were a Yalie, he’d be an EP&E/IS premed on the crew team. Sure, his superhuman ability would have either won him the glory of the memory of his name or killed him in the end, but we’ve heard this tale many times.

And then there are the beta-Yalies. People outside of the University would be surprised to see that such people could possibly exist within this Gothic fortress of academia, but we do. If your devotion to the little letters you receive at the end of a course died in high school, if your response to the question “What are you doing after you graduate?” is a multiple choice answer, if completing the great American novel or finding a cure for cancer seems like something you will get to … eventually, then you are a beta-Yalie. Welcome to the club.

As a self-confessed beta, I often find myself jealous of my alpha counterparts. After all, I think I’d probably like being a Supreme Court justice or a poet laureate. I imagine it must be fun for people all around the world to know your name and admire your ability to hit a home run or expound on the virtues of string theory. I wish I had the concentration and the drive and the internal fury to accomplish one of these things, or at least come close. I think I’d enjoy achieving greatness a good deal, thank you very much.

I’d like to be clear on one particular point: I am not making a value judgment between these two alternatives. The world needs both alphas and betas for the proper function and progress of society, and we’d be all the worse off if this dichotomy didn’t exist. If the betas are the worker bees, diligently toiling away in relative obscurity, then the alphas are the dynamic queens, leading the way toward forming new hives and producing delicious honey. Both sides are equally relevant.

Very often, opinion articles like this tend to decry the alphas. After all, they are easy targets for ridicule, and some of them are pompous jerks who could use a little roughhousing. They talk about the need for people to balance themselves, of the value of simple things, of schemes of priority far better than their own. But this is a stupid position, written by smug columnists who would hope that their faux modesty could win them some glory of ressentiment.

What is most necessary, and what I’d ask of you if I had the authority, is to figure out where you are on the number line between the alpha and the beta. I would not be so presumptuous as to say where the best spot on the scale is, but I think it’s crucial to understand where one stands. Once we figure out where we fit in, we can accurately and personally evaluate our position for ourselves. In other words, this is not a standard opinion piece, in that I don’t have an opinion of where you should be. In fact, it makes little difference to me where you are on the scale; all that matters is where I am on it, and that I can appreciate that for what it is.

Of course, this is much more difficult than that. Indeed, it may take a lifetime to figure out where one should have sat on the line at a particular time. But your life and your happiness will depend greatly on your answer to this question. Better let your alpha side get on it now, before everyone else gets their answer first.



Zachary Zwillinger is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.

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