Whenever we come across someone who seems to have things figured out at an early age we say they are “wise beyond their years.” Wise, not intelligent or educated. Wise. Because wisdom can’t be learned in a book but can only come through experience and time. Here is one definition of wisdom that tracks this notion:
Wisdom largely emerges from reflection on past experience. Wise people incorporate past observations and opinions into a more nuanced style of thinking—considering multiple perspectives rather than black and white options. Being open to new ways of thinking, essentially challenging status quo, can be a hallmark of wisdom and help cultivate it.
The status quo may, not may not, be ideal. Not simply going with the flow and committing to what matters is a measure or wisom. Choosing among priorities as Eric Falkenstein and choosing correctly is in part wisdom. He writes:
While there is nothing wrong with having wealth or wanting more, this should be of secondary importance, and wisdom is all about priorities. We should be encouraged to appreciate excellence in others to build excellence in ourselves. This takes faith, in that we have to believe our excellence in character, even if not reflected in the current status hierarchy, is appreciated by someone we admire, if not now, then in the future.
The only stable personal equilibrium is to choose to be yourself and pursue what you believe be excellence. This is not easy. In fact, it may be the most difficult thing possible. Today’s society does everything it can to get you to conform to its logic. Over at A VC, Jerry Colonna author of Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up wrote this:
Indeed, I think what Jesus taught was a simple truth: the only choice that doesn’t destroy you is to be the leader you were born to be. The alchemy of becoming your self is the ultimate act of leadership.
‘The alchemy of becoming yourself’ is a great way of describing something that has no set formula or recipe. It is unique to each one of us and our own journeys through life. This alchemy requires us to be vulnerable, which is challenging. It is something which society teaches us decidedly not to be. But Shane Parrish writing at Farnam Street talks about how vulnerability is a necessary part of being in relationships, broadly defined. He writes:
Being vulnerable starts with being honest with yourself. How can you get better if you can’t admit that you could be better? How are you going to be a better partner or friend if you can’t admit that sometimes you aren’t a great one? How will you learn from your mistakes if you don’t acknowledge making any?
Learning from mistakes is a necessary part of becoming wiser. The two go hand in hand. I think we instinctively understand that wisdom, and leadership, don’t come from those who seem to have it all figured out. Rather we seek out those people who understand that they don’t have it all figured out but are okay with that. Roger Ehrenberg writes:
Whether you are a founder or an investor, a parent or a child, a teacher or a student or simply a human trying to live their best life, applying energy to being intellectually and spiritually honest with others, and, by extension, yourself, brings us closer to true authenticity that can unlock feelings of understanding, empathy and peace.
Understanding, empathy and peace. All things we all seemingly crave. All things that come with authenticity, vulnerability and an openness to new ways of thinking.