We live life looking forward and we understand life looking backward. It is natural that the young have chutzpah in the face of challenges. It allows one to charge against the odds. It is natural to fall down on the journey. Those who get back up and on their journey have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
The more mistakes that are overcome, the more that is learned. After many mistakes and reflection, wisdom grows. We learn that some of the biggest mistakes have led to the best outcomes. We learn that our most difficult events can make us stronger. It is how we deal with things that happen that make the difference.
While I would not wish a wheelchair on anyone, studies have found those who face that event are happier five years later than those who won the lottery. Humans are fairly able to adapt to new realities such as injury. We do not do as well with unrealistic expectations about what money can do for happiness. I have a client who almost died from a heart attack who’s motto is now, “Every day above ground is a good day.” In contrast, during the 2008 market crash, those who inherited millions of dollars were much more upset when it dropped in half than those who had earned their millions. It is how we think about what happens in our life that yields wisdom and happiness … or not.
With many mistakes and experiences, some people arrive at “old age” with wisdom. Those who face enormous difficulty early in life also seem to find wisdom at an earlier age. We did pro bono speech coaching with a teenage boy who successfully fought multiple rounds of cancer. At 15-years-old, he was able to share wisdom in his speeches that would rival the wisest senior citizen.
I recently saw a sign that said, “Old age has come at an inconvenient time“. The phrase I have often heard, “If I knew at 25 what I know now ...” captures the theme. When young, most think that well-meaning “old people” do not know much about their world. It is true for every generation. The gap with who has wisdom of experience and who could take best advantage has endured.
When we ask people who in their life has had the biggest impact in their life, they talk about a sports coach, a teacher who challenged them, a parent or grandparent. The reasons given are “they believed in me“, “they saw more in me than I saw in myself“, “they supported me when I really needed it“, “they were a role model of how to care for others“, and “they had my back“. I have yet to hear the answer that said, “They were the smartest person.” When I ask how they did those things, the most common thread is “They really listened to me.”
Listening is something we can all do. It is something we can all learn to do better. It is the thing that allows young and old to share wisdom.