We often consider wisdom to be something we gain with age but do a quick Google search, and you will find that Cambridge defines ‘wise’ as:
“having or showing the ability to make good judgments, based on a deep understanding and experience of life:”
Take note of “a deep understanding and experience of life”.
Some go through life year after year, gaining a little more experience and a little more understanding of the world we live in.
Others gain wisdom much faster due to life experiences like the four we will cover today.
While there are certainly more, these are ones that I have witnessed firsthand. Some are by choice, while others are sadly not.
Nonetheless, they make us wiser.
How many have you had?
Let’s find out.
1) You have lived abroad for some time
For any of you who have lived abroad, you will know that it is a life-changing experience.
While it’s easy to think that most of the world is very similar nowadays, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
As someone who has lived away from my home country for the past decade, I can say that culture shock is real and should not be underestimated. Language, customs, and what is considered ‘normal’ vary greatly from place to place.
Living in an environment different from what we knew before not only accelerates the pace at which we have to learn but also forces us to confront our long-held beliefs on how the world should be and how things should operate.
It challenges us to know ourselves better or, as Harvard Business Review put it, “to develop a clearer sense of self”.
It isn’t always an easy process; many go through an extremely rough time coming to terms with these new perspectives, so much so that many quit.
Living in Southeast Asia, I have seen countless adventurers come full of enthusiasm but leave before they planned because the culture change was too much for them.
Ultimately, those who stay and push through this confrontation process are wiser for it.
2) You have started a business
We are in an age of ‘entrepreneurship’ in which we are encouraged to start side hustles or online businesses and ‘live the dream’.
Many dream of living this ‘dream’; a study by Zapier suggests that a whopping 61% of Americans have had an idea for starting a business. However, more than 9 out of 10 people didn’t follow through.
Why they didn’t go ahead with it is beside the point. The point is that if you have followed through on establishing your own thing, you will know that what YouTube influencers and online course gurus often fail to tell us is that starting your own business is hard.
As someone who, perhaps, foolishly tried his hand at starting multiple businesses, I can tell you there is a little more humbling.
If you, too, have started a business, you probably wanted to give up at times.
You felt inspired. You felt helpless. You pinned your dreams to its success. It’s a rollercoaster.
It’s no wonder some sources would suggest that entrepreneurs are four times more likely to suffer from depression than the general public.
But, and it’s a big but, whether you succeeded or not, you will know that it was an experience that made you wiser.
For a start, as an ‘entrepreneur’, you wear many hats and must make decisions based on countless factors and view things from a number of perspectives at the same time.
As a result of going through this, you gain the ability to make more considered decisions.
Secondly, the experience allows us to understand the motivations of different groups of people more fully.
While maybe it shouldn’t be the case, employees have vastly different priorities and worries for business owners. The marketing department of a company has a much different focus than the finance department.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, owning a business will push most of us to our limits. We are confronted head-on with our strengths and weaknesses, both in terms of our skills and emotional IQ.
This is less romantic than it sounds. However, there is no doubt that getting to know yourself more fully, truly knowing yourself, allows you to make better judgments for your career and personal life.
Or at least it has for me.
Starting your own business and struggling through its difficulties is the holy grail for me in terms of wisdom, but this next experience is a close runner-up, albeit with somewhat fewer sleepless nights.
3) You have worked in many fields
Working in many areas is also an experience that makes us wiser.
Again, I write from experience.
In my adult life, I have worked across multiple industries, from finance to education to writing.
As a teenager, I also had many part-time jobs; I worked in a restaurant, a clothing store, a factory, a carpenter’s workshop…the list goes on.
Whether my career-hopping past has benefited me financially is up for debate, but I can tell you with certainty that it has made me wiser.
The perspective I have gained from working with people of different backgrounds has been invaluable.
Whether we’d like to admit it or not, it has been my experience that, on average, people who work in finance have a very different view of the world than those who have chosen a career in education. A self-employed carpenter has another view totally.
Of course, you meet people who are very different and work in the same industry, but it is less common.
This diverse experience has allowed me to more fully understand people’s opinions and, as I see it, empathize and foster collaboration. If this isn’t the ability to make “good judgments” based on knowledge and experience, I am not sure what is.
If you, too, have had a somewhat unconventional and varied career, you will know what I mean.
This next experience is possibly the toughest to deal with, but there’s no denying that it makes us wiser.
4) You have coped with the death of a loved one
I don’t want to bring up painful memories, but this article would not be complete without mentioning this point.
Dealing with the loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult things we can do. It requires strength, resilience, and emotional intelligence.
And even when you have all those things, it’s still incredibly hard.
But if there is a silver lining, it’s that it makes us wiser.
Not only does it force us to develop our emotional intelligence, but it also forces us to confront the universal truth that we are all going to die.
It can seem scary, but accepting it is the first step to embracing life and living it to the fullest for the short time we all have on this earth.
It reminds us to, as Gandhi put it:
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
If there is a wiser sentiment than this, I don’t know it.
The bottom line
I hope you found this post enjoyable to read and that, as always, it has given you some food for thought for your own journey.
Until next time.