I bet you’ve done a lot of stupid things. Me too. I’ve been arrested, ingested substances I probably shouldn’t have, and (worst of all) spent years of my life chasing money and prestige.
We humans tend to have a difficult time following advice. We know we should do work that makes us happy. We know we should live a healthy lifestyle. We know that relationships are more important than money. But it doesn’t matter, we mess up anyways.
Knowledge Versus Wisdom
Knowledge can be passed down. Name, dates, and processes are easily recorded for the benefit of future generations. We can share the plans to build an airplane, a recipe for curry, and even frameworks for government. Knowledge can be transferred, but wisdom can’t. Knowledge is universal; wisdom is personal.
You can’t learn wisdom from a book. You can’t learn wisdom from your parents. You can only learn wisdom by living and making mistakes.
When we were growing up, parents, teachers, and other adults frequently gave us advice (or commands) for how we should live our lives. Often, their counsel went in one ear and out the other. They didn’t really understand us. Their advice didn’t apply to us. We were different.
Then, when you “grow up,” you gradually start to realize that your parents were right. They had a lot of good advice. They were wise. Why didn’t you listen? It would have saved you a lot of pain and failure.
Wisdom in Life
Wisdom is gained through experience. There’s no other way. You become wise through making mistakes, experiencing failure, and getting hurt. The great men and women of the world didn’t achieve success because they had an easy ride and did everything right the first time. They made mistakes. Lots of them. But they learned.
Because each of us is different, we can’t know if something will work for us unless we try it.
Perhaps you were told that money isn’t everything. However, you decide you want to be an investment banker and work 80 hours a week anyways. Having money sounds like lots of fun. Perhaps other people are unfulfilled, but you’re different. It will work for you.
But after a while, you start to feel the burnout. The fancy dinners and the nice apartment aren’t worth the fact that you are spending your whole life in an office doing something you don’t love. What’s the point of money if you aren’t enjoying life? Eventually, it hits you- money isn’t everything.
Of course, people had been telling you that your whole life. On a superficial level, you knew money wasn’t everything. But now it’s different. Now you know. You’ve experienced it. Your big mistake may have cost you years of your life, but you’ve been granted the gift of wisdom. You won’t make this mistake again. You have become wise.
Wisdom in Business
The rules for acquiring wisdom apply to businesses as well. Many businesspeople often think that they can learn all they need from books. If only they could learn enough knowledge, they would be able to succeed.
But life isn’t like the books. New problems will pop up that you never considered. Each situation is completely unique. Solutions from the books might not apply. As a result, you fail. You experience painful setbacks that rock your confidence to its core.
Good. You’re learning. While mistakes are never fun, they’re always instructive. Every failure is a lesson that gets you closer to success. Talking about his experience building a lightbulb, Thomas Edison famously said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. “
Once you fail enough, you will have a strong store of wisdom to help prevent future failures. Eventually, you start to succeed.
In Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse, the main character reflects on the many mistakes of his life:
“I had to pass through so much stupidity, through so many vices, through so many errors, through so much disgust and disappointment and woe, just to become a child again and start over.” — Siddhartha
Like Siddhartha, we all make more mistakes than we can count. Big mistakes; long mistakes; painful mistakes. But eventually, once the dust settles, we are given the opportunity to start over. Except when we get back on our feet, we aren’t the same. We are wiser. We won’t make that same mistake again. Through the constant process of screwing up and dealing with the consequences, we learn. Through our pain, we grow. Through life, we become wise.
Originally published at https://bjorn2write.com on August 5, 2019.