I’m writing this on my birthday. Birthdays are a pretty arbitrary measure of aging—the earth has made some number of revolutions around the sun since I was born. Time passes, and our experience grows. But it’s not our experience that counts in life as much as what we do with it. Do we learn from it? Do we apply it to help others? Does our experience give us knowledge and wisdom?
Experience and knowledge by themselves are not enough. Knowledge is just information that’s made meaningful. You sometimes hear the phrase “full of useless knowledge” describing people who know a lot of meaningful information about topics that are regarded as irrelevant by most of us. But what makes a topic relevant? Something is relevant if it can be put to use, if it can be applied to a situation to make things better.
That word “better” seems to be the key. We want to make the world a better place to live. We want to make things better for our children and grandchildren. The key to life is progress toward better things. Sometimes progress is slow, requiring our patience and dedication; and sometimes progress is fast, requiring our control and focus.
Things don’t always get better; sometimes they get worse in spite of our efforts. But then we try to turn things around, making them better again.
I mentioned wisdom in the opening paragraph, but what is wisdom? I think it’s knowing what “better” is. It’s knowing that sometimes things that seem better in the short-run aren’t really better at all, and that we need the perspective to strive instead for what’s better in the long-run. Wisdom is being able to differentiate between subtle shades of “better” to pick the best goal and the best path to achieve the goal.
Wisdom is taking all the knowledge and experience we’ve gained over the years and putting it together into an understanding of what’s right and wrong, important and unimportant, better and worse. But it goes two steps further:
1. Wisdom applies that knowledge and experience to help others choose personal and business goals that make things “better” for them.
2. Wisdom helps them achieve those goals by enabling small course corrections on the route toward goal achievement, when changing conditions cause us to alter the meaning of “better.”
Most of our life is spent achieving goals, but we aren’t making progress if things aren’t becoming better. Be sure your goals are the right ones. Spend a little time on your birthday, or any other day, thinking about whether you’re headed in the right direction to make things better. If not, then apply some of your wisdom (and the wisdom of others) to pick different goals or different ways to achieve them.