Rod Stewart has a song with the following lyrics:
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger,
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger.
I wish I knew what I know now.
Ever feel that way?
“What would you tell your younger self?”
There is a question I often receive in podcast interviews.
It’s a classic.
“Nothing. Why waste my breath?”
It’s tongue in cheek, but only a little.
Ten years ago, if an older coach shared with me ALL the (measly) wisdom that I now possess… I am not sure I would listen. That’s just not what twenty something year olds do.
Twenty something year olds try a bunch of random shit, see what sticks, break a bone or two, maybe go to school, maybe try some recreational drugs, get through a breakup, travel a bit, realize that do not hate their parents nearly as much as they thought they did, and, if all goes well, arrive into their thirties a little tired, and motivated to learn more.
Thirty something year olds get married, maybe have a child or two, finally get a dog, buy a house, but decide against the white picket fence, learn words like “trim”, “shingles”, and “water tank”, find some grey hairs, pull the first couple out, then give up, shift from craft beer to cocktails, and realize that quiet Friday nights are vastly underrated.
So… as we get older, do we also get… wiser? If you look at research on wisdom, you find that: -Wisdom is a multifaceted construct -Despite common belief, wisdom is not correlated with chronological age When faced with a difficult question, a wise individual will:
consider the context of the problem at hand, as well as individual circumstances,
acknowledge and take into account the variability of individual values, and priorities, and
recognize the inherent uncertainty of life.
Should I quit smoking?
Should I have children?
Should I start a business?
Any simplistic response such as “yes” or “no” that fails to consider context, circumstances, values and life uncertainty, is easy to spew out, and nice to hear, but… not helpful.
If you listen to the experts try to answer complex questions posed to them, you will often hear a lot of “it depends”, and “it’s hard to say”.
Because it does depend.
And it IS hard to say.
In fact, the more one knows about any one field, the harder time they will have answering questions simply - because it’s just not that simple.
Meanwhile, the best predictors of wisdom in adulthood seem to be certain personality characteristics (creativity, moral reasoning, social intelligence) and life history factors (exposure to great mentors, challenging life experiences).
At the cusp of forty, I am probably not ready to absorb the truth and wisdom of someone else’s fifties. I ask, and I work hard on keeping my mouth shut when they talk. I hope some of it rubs off.
Do you notice how we ALL end up making the same fucking mistakes decade by decade? It’s not that we do not have the information… people HAVE experienced their twenties before our time. Many of these people have tried sharing what they learned with us - our parents, perhaps, were some of the first.
Maybe, we are just not meant to know what we know any earlier than we know it.
Information is useless if the recipient is not ready to receive it.
I acknowledge this possible limitation.
I dial down my own impatience with friends, clients and colleagues that are ten years younger.
I dial up my own curiosity with friends, clients and colleagues that are ten years older.
We will all get there eventually (wherever THERE is). :)