When I was 30, I was at my low point. Gone was the “I can do anything” arrogance of my youth. All I wanted was a job, a small income and an ounce of self-respect.
It was then that I formulated this very simple perspective shift that I trot out for clients who are making mistakes based on youth or inexperience.
“Think of yourself 5 years ago. What did you know then, compared to now?”
We are the accumulation of all of our experiences, and older is, in fact, usually wiser.
That sentence sets off a whirlwind of thoughts, upon which the client invariably realizes that you can live an entire lifetime in five years.
When I was 25, I was an optimistic screenwriter who had already gotten an agent. I had never been on an online date, but I believed in love because of my parents’ 30 year marriage.
By age 30, my dad had died and I had given up on screenwriting. After 100 dates, I still hadn’t fallen in love. I had never made more than $30K/year.
By 35, I had fallen in love three times. I had written two books and had two websites. I was earning six figures. I was happy for the first time as an adult.
By the time I was 40, I was married, had two kids, owned my own home, and was more successful in helping women than I ever could have imagined.
I’d like to think I’m not done, and neither are you. The point is that we are the accumulation of all of our experiences, and older is, in fact, usually wiser.
I thought of this because of a recent New York Times piece about “The Science of Older and Wiser,” which refers to a study which illustrates that “the quality of the information in the older brain is more nuanced. While younger people were faster in tests of cognitive performance, older people showed “greater sensitivity to fine-grained differences.”
True personal wisdom involves five elements, said Professor Staudinger, now a life span psychologist and professor at Columbia University. They are self-insight; the ability to demonstrate personal growth; self-awareness in terms of your historical era and your family history; understanding that priorities and values, including your own, are not absolute; and an awareness of life’s ambiguities.
People who blame others for their unhappiness are unlikely to find the internal resources to make themselves happy. And if you’re unhappy with yourself, you’ll be hard pressed to make any partner happy.
Wisdom in this sense is extremely rare, Professor Staudinger said, and research has shown that it actually declines in the final decades. As a coping strategy, it is better to be positive about life when you are older, she said, and the older people skew that way. They are more likely to look back on their lives and say that the events that occurred were for the best; a wise person would fully acknowledge mistakes and losses, and still try to improve.
True wisdom involves recognizing the negative both within and outside ourselves and trying to learn from it, she said.
Modern definitions of wisdom tend to stress kindness – even if it’s not on the order of Buddha, Gandhi or the Dalai Lama. Wisdom is characterized by a “reduction in self-centeredness,” Professor Ardelt said. Wise people try to understand situations from multiple perspectives, not just their own, and they show tolerance as a result.
“There’s evidence that people who rank high in neuroticism are unlikely to be wise,” said Laura L. Carstensen, a psychology professor and founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in California. “They see things in a self-centered and negative way and so they fail to benefit emotionally from experience, even though they may be very intelligent.”
As a recovering neurotic, I can vouch for that. People who blame others for their unhappiness are unlikely to find the internal resources to make themselves happy. And if you’re unhappy with yourself, you’ll be hard pressed to make any partner happy.
Wherever you go, there you are.
Your thoughts, below, are appreciated.