I’ve often said in this space that we all benefit by our life experiences, and we often call this “wisdom”.
It might have been helpful to know a few things back when I was younger, but youth often ignores the “wisdom” of its elders because old folks are “out of touch” or have become too pessimistic. I think that wisdom has an important time component that can’t be ignored, and the most important lessons I’ve learned have been because of mistakes I’ve made. Here are a few things I know now, but didn’t know then:
You Never Stop Worrying: I once thought that worrying, like acne, would go away when I became an adult. (my zits stayed around until my 40’s!). I didn’t assume adulthood would be worry-free, but I did think that someday I’d have most things figured out. It turns out that life just keeps handing me new challenges and new reasons for concern. Worry has a negative connotation, and I wish I could control how much I worry. But I can’t; it’s just something I feel like I need to learn to live with.
I Don’t Always Have To Save Money: Heresy! I’m a traitor to my profession, you say! Hear me out: I’ve always been a good saver, and it’s great to save money, especially when it becomes an ingrained habit. However, savers often skip over some great life opportunities (a better but lower-paying job, vacation, the dream car, etc.) because we are so dedicated to saving that we forget we need to spend the money to make it mean anything. Unspent savings are probably as bad as never having saved at all.
Rainy Day Funds Should Be Spent When It’s Raining: Again, we great savers tend to guard our stash of emergency cash. Well, sometimes it rains! We lose jobs, an unexpected cost pops up, or things didn’t go so well for a family member…we have emergency money for a reason…EMERGENCIES. Sometimes we savers have a really tough time watching the savings account balance drop below a certain number, and so we refuse to dip into it despite the obvious need to do so.
Plumbing Repairs Always Leak: I have a 132-year-old house. I’ve tried to make numerous plumbing repairs. They always leak. Always. My advice: HIRE A PLUMBER. I have learned this the hard way.
Every Career Experience Helps: Yes, even the lousy ones. I am grateful for the bad bosses, toxic co-workers, or baffling employees. The wisdom that I now bring to bear on my job is directly the result of career experiences, both good and bad. I don’t mean that we should just put up with the bad jobs; we should learn from them what we can so we improve the next time around. Learn how to work, how to manage, how to be a team member. Get better at it.
I’ve Lost Touch With Some People: It stinks, but it’s true. Friends from earlier eras fade. People move away. Others become different people or develop different interests. Some I simply forgot to contact. Try hard to maintain connections; I always feel great when I talk to an old friend, and I constantly wonder why I don’t do it more often. I’m going to call somebody right now.
Others Helped Me A Lot More Than I Realize: I’m proud of many of the things I’ve accomplished. That said, there are so many people who have helped me for no other reason than they are nice people. Referrals for new business. A tip about my next trip. Encouragement. The willingness indulge my next big idea despite their good sense that I would fail. A negotiation they made pleasant. These others made a choice to believe in me. It’s amazing how dependent we are on one-another. I am not a self-made man; I’m a man who had lots of help. We all have gotten a lot of help.
Sometimes My Brain Needs A Break: I like crossword puzzles, but sometimes I get stuck. I have found that 100% of the time I set it aside, do something else, and then come back to it later, I become unstuck and finish it. I know that sometimes we don’t have the luxury of stopping because of deadlines, but if we can build in “downtime” for the brain to rest, we will find the solution to many of life’s puzzles more easily and with better results. I find this works for marital disagreements, too!
The Messenger Of Misery Comes For Us All: I marvel at people who have endured more than their share of tragedy and sadness. I can’t believe they make it to tomorrow. I have had a little experience with this, but my experience has been much, much less than what many others have had. I know my good fortune won’t last, so I’m grateful for whenever good things happen. We all will have bad things happen to us. No getting around that.
This Time It Is Not Different: Whatever I think is happening now, history reminds me that it’s happened before. Not exactly the same way as the past, not the same disasters or the amazing sports upset or economic troubles. But the world was here long before I got here, and it will be here after I’m gone. It’s our job to keep it going. Sure, the world is crazy right now, but I defy anyone to tell me when the world wasn’t crazy. We have our problems to solve, and we should work to solve them. Future generations will have their problems to solve. The world will be crazy in 2042 and 2072 and 2525. I hope those people will thank us for not giving them our problems.
Bob Seger, in a melancholy song about lessons learned titled Against The Wind, sang:
“Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”
Wisdom is hard-earned, and the price of it may be quite high. Sometimes we wish we didn’t learn truths about our lives, the world, or other people. Nonetheless, we are always better equipped to handle challenges when we have knowledge of what might face. We fear what we don’t understand. More information always helps face new challenges.
Nonetheless, I recommend you take my “wisdoms” with a grain of salt, because my experience may not be yours. Except the plumbing; everybody should hire a plumber.