“Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up all by itself.”
Most of us have figured out by now that growing older doesn’t necessarily guarantee we’ll be wiser. It takes time and is developed over the years. In fact, whether we gain wisdom at all depends not just on our experiences but if we learn from them, according to the University of Florida’s Dr. Monika Ardelt, associate professor of sociology.
One example she gave during an interview for the documentary film The Science of Wisdom, was if we lose a job when we’re young, our focus may be only on replacing the money, but if it occurs later in life we may want to find work that’s also meaningful.
Although we often assume wisdom is found later in life, Ardelt conducted a study that looked at whether older adults were indeed wiser than college students. Developing a 39 question three-dimensional scale to measure the components of wisdom, she found the older adults did score higher and the research suggested the results were due to learning from experiences.
When I think back to what I knew when I was younger and what I know now, this makes sense. How we responded to life’s challenges when we were in our 20s compared to who we are today surely is explained by the years of trial and error and a worldview shaped from all we experienced first-hand.
Although we are all different and I hesitate to generalize, here’s an unscientific assessment of what I think we’ve learned.
Someone’s estimation of us seemed so significant when we were younger, whether it involved a romantic interest, an acquaintance at work, or one we hardly knew. Sadly, it could also have been a person we didn’t even like.
Today, we’ve learned to put others’ opinions of us in perspective. We know it’s more important to like ourselves. We see the big picture now and understand we’re not at the center of everything.
What we’ve discovered seems much like the old saying – when we were 20 we worried what others thought of us; at 40, we learned not to care as much; and when we turned 60, we found out they hadn’t been thinking about us at all.
It was so important to fit in back then that we’d strive to be like everyone else if that meant we were accepted. Whether we dressed like our friends, played down our intellect or went along with the crowd, the goal was not to stand out.
As we’ve grown up, we recognize what it means to be ourselves. We understand that we have much to offer the world and we appreciate our uniqueness. It’s this distinction that brings flavor to life.
When we were younger, we often saw other women as competition and didn’t have the confidence yet of our own talents. Or to grasp the futility of comparing ourselves with others.
Today? We understand that life isn’t a zero-sum game. Your success doesn’t take away from mine. We can cheer on other women and support them in a way that benefits us all. We also recognize that many came before us and helped pave the way.
Dealing with the unknown seemed too risky back then. What if we were wrong? What if we failed? We’d be embarrassed, everyone would laugh and we might never recover from the mistakes we made.
But we learned that life is full of risk and it’s likely our regrets are more about what we didn’t do than did. It turns out the world doesn’t end if you make a mistake and while taking a chance might be a misstep, you can almost always change direction.
We often didn’t understand the true meaning of these relationships or the work it took to make and have good friends. We assumed they would always be there, even if we weren’t able to stay in touch or make time for them.
Now we know firsthand how much our friendships matter. Having someone you can count on is invaluable. One of the saddest lessons in life is when we realize there will come a time when we won’t have each other. You can’t make an old friend.
The good news is that if you think you could use a little more wisdom, there’s still time. To start, if you’d like to have an idea of how you would score, here’s a link to the wisdom questionnaire developed by Dr. Ardelt.
But this is not about knowing everything, she says. It’s having a deeper understanding of the human condition. These are some of the components that need to be developed if we are to become wise:
It’s not that a younger person can’t have wisdom, but since it’s developed as we learn, we’ve just had more chances. Consider it a benefit of growing older.
We’ve made it this far and that says much. Most baby boomers I know wouldn’t trade who they are today to go back to their 20s. If we would have known then what we know now, the road here no doubt would have been easier. But that journey also made us who we are today.
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