Wisdom has nothing to do with how much time has past and everything to do with how much intelligent reflection you did during that time.
In the words of the wise philosopher, Indiana Jones, “It’s not the years – it’s the mileage.”
LESSON LEARNED: If you want to be wise beyond your years, you need a game plan.
1. Get direct experience any way you can. Wisdom comes from doing. Not from reading books. Or attending seminars. Or listening to audio programs in your car on the commute to work.
Those things might make you smart – but not wise.
You need to run the gauntlet of genuine experience. You need to make mistakes. To travel outside of your comfort zone. To get lost in foreign countries.
Maybe break a few hearts. And definitely have your own heart broken too. That’ll learn ya real good. Do you need to read more books about other people’s adventures – or go have an adventure yourself that’s worth sharing?
2. Speed up your unlearning curve. Learning is for monkeys and kindergartners. If you want to become wise beyond your years, try forgetting a few things for once.
Just beware: Unlearning is a painful process for most people.
Fist, because it requires mental flexibility in an age of terminal certainty. Secondly, because it threatens your ego’s power. Third, because cognitive dissonance is a brutal force. And finally, unlearning is painful because it activates the change process. And last time I checked, most people still hate change.
If you want to become wise beyond your years, consider unlearning the following things: Dangerous prejudices, outdated desires, false interpretations, inherited biases, outworn assumptions, previous definitions, useless fears and stale scripts.
Remember: Any idiot can be smart. It takes a real genius to unlearn. What mental constructs do you need to let go of?
3. Walk the wise – then record the footprints. Hanging out with a bunch of wise people won’t make you wise. Unlike poison ivy, wisdom isn’t something that just rubs off because of proximity.
The secret is to ask questions, listen closely to people’s answers, document your learnings and ultimately decide for yourself what you believe to be real and true.
Otherwise you’re just an advice leech. And the wisdom handed down to you will fall on deaf ears, shut eyes and a blocked heart. How many mentors do you have?
4. Take advantage of unlimited and instant access. Contrary to popular belief, the Internet does serve a purpose besides pornography and online gambling. I’m talking about the democratization of information.
The fact that you can find things out that there’s no possible way you could have known at your age is a beautiful thing. Imagine: Past generations actually had to wait around until they experienced things to learn them.
Ha! You can speed up your learning curve dramatically simply by becoming an avid researcher. And although nothing can replace direct, real experience, the web is a nice placeholder.
My only caveat is to triangulate your research. To validate every fact from three credible sources. This helps protect yourself from the worst part about the Internet: Everybody has a voice. And some of those voices smell like farts.
Be careful who you listen to. What have you researched this week?
5. Intentionally put yourself in situations that force you to grow up quickly. My cousin Justin interned as the village doctor in Honduras during his second year at medical school. My friend Rory spent four summers selling textbooks door to door.
My pal Anthony moved to Tokyo without knowing a single word of Japanese. My mate Joey took the hardest, lowest paying job at his father’s plumbing company.
And me? I moved across the country to Portland because I’d never been there, didn’t know anybody and didn’t have a job.
Notice the commonality? All of these situations were intentional, risk-laden, out of our comfort zones and chock-full of opportunities to depend on our own resources to survive.
Nothing will dispense wisdom quicker. How much longer can you realistically suffer from Peter Pan Syndrome?
6. Be the world’s expert on yourself. In The Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu wrote, “He who knows other is smart – but he who knows himself is wise.”
What about you? Which do you focus on? Memorizing the names of Brad and Angelina’s fourteen Cambodian children or knowing what makes your heart sing?
If you want to be remembered as being wise beyond your years, claim expertise on one domain: Yourself. Otherwise your vast knowledge of everybody else’s business is nothing but empty calories.
Like the song Wasting Time by Jack Johnson:
“Nobody knows anything about themselves because they’re all worried about everybody else.”
Don’t be that guy. No matter how tempting the gossip trap looks. Instead, focus on knowing yourself inside out. The people who matter will notice. Do you need a copy of US Weekly or a blank journal?
7. Use your past to see their present. A great mark of wisdom well internalized is the ability to see the old version of yourself in the people around you.
But not with a judgmental posture. Rather, with a calm and curious intrigue, reminding yourself of how far you’ve come.
For example, when I sit next to people on airplanes whose actions are hurried, violent, stressed, frustrated and oxygen-deficient, it always makes me smile. I think to myself, “Wow, that used to be me. But I’m so over that now.”
Again, this isn’t said with arrogance or smugness; rather, with celebration and recognition of wisdom you didn’t recognize until you encounter a person who practiced the opposite. What’s your past worth?
8. Start teaching earlier. Stop waiting for permission to be a teacher. You don’t need grey hair. You don’t need a degree. You don’t need a chalkboard. And you don’t need a tweed blazer with patches on the elbows.
A teacher is someone who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. A teacher is someone who has the willingness and ability to share what he’s learned from what he’s done.
What’s more, teaching is an attractive role. It means authority, it commands credibility and it indicates expertise. The challenge is finding your classroom.
Fortunately, the meaning of the word “classroom” word has evolved in the past few decades. Especially with the advent of numerous online portals, you now have thousands of potential classrooms at your fingertips, both online and offline.
For example, your classroom might be lunch with your friends. It might be the break room at work. Or it might be the dinner table with your children. Online, your classroom might be on your blog. It might be your Facebook page. Or it might be your monthly teleseminar or webinar series.
The bottom line is: There’s no better way to learn something than to teach it to someone else. Do that every day and your wisdom factor will skyrocket. What lesson plan are you preparing this week?
9. Learn to trust your voice. I recently did a five-hour video shoot with my client, The Australian Institute of Management. During our lunch break, my cameraman, Derrick, made an interesting comment:
“On-camera work is a completely different animal than public speaking. You have to be quick on your feet and good off the cuff. The problem is, most people don’t have the confidence that when they open their mouth, something good will come out.”
What about you? Do you trust your voice? If not, consider these suggestions for doing so.
First, write every day. Doesn’t have to be much. Fifteen minutes is enough. You’ll discover two things: Writing is the great clarifier; and writing it makes everything you do easier and better – including trusting your voice in person.
Second, practice. Debate yourself. Grill yourself. Challenge yourself. Anything to acclimate yourself to articulating your thoughts clearly and quickly.
Ultimately, trusting your voice takes time, patience and practice. And here’s the best part: One day, two years from now, in the middle of a conversation with your boss, you’ll pull a one-liner out of your ass that’s so incredibly lucid and insightful, he’ll wonder if you accidentally slept on a dictionary.
You’ll give new meaning to the term “wise ass.” Are you prepared to sign your name under your voice and let the whole world know how you feel?
10. Establish your learning plan. I can’t tell you how to do this. It all depends on how you think, how you learn, what you need learn and why you want to learn it.
Instead, here’s a snapshot of my own learning plan to inspire your to do the same.
Reading: Five books a week.
Journaling: Thirty minutes, three pages, first thing every morning.
Writing: Four to seven hours a day.
Mentors: Fifteen people I regular converse with in person or virtually.
Mastermind: Three that I meet with throughout the year.
Speaking: Ten hours of preparation for each presentation.
Education: Three to five seminars a year.
Miscellaneous: Daily observation, note taking, question asking and research.
Now, that’s not the whole enchilada, but you get the point. And while I don’t expect you to copy or even emulate my learning plan, I do challenge to think about – and physically write out – your own.
Commit to doing that, and your wisdom will make your years look like days. What did you learn yesterday?
ONE MORE THING: Growing up doesn’t mean growing old.
That’s the only caveat: To make sure that your pursuit of wisdom doesn’t eclipse your practice of childlikeness.
Because the last thing you want is to position yourself as the precocious young genius that doesn’t know how to have any fun. Be sure to keep your inner child in check. Otherwise all the wisdom in the world won’t do you much good. You’ll end up like one of those annoying, hyper-articulate child actors that people are tired of by the time they’re twelve. (I’m looking at you, Haley Joel Osment.)
REMEMBER: Being wise beyond your years isn’t about the years themselves; it’s about what happened during those years, and how you reflect upon that.
Indiana Jones would be proud.
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
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