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The Pursuit of Wisdom

Several years ago, the movie The Pursuit of Happiness was a huge success. Will Smith and his son Jaden told the story of entrepreneur Chris Gardner and the difficult challenges he faced.

Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is a well-known phrase of the US Declaration of Independence.

Many parents counsel their children with words like: “I don’t care what you do for a career. I just want you to be happy.

The problem with happiness is that it can be short lived. We have happy moments. We say “I was so happy when…”

Another problem is that happiness is often dependent on an external event, or person as in: “You make me so happy.

Recently, Bonnie and I just spent a week with my 89 year old mother. Her body is aging and limiting her activities. Friends and family that have shared her life for decades are dying. She just lost her last sibling, Simone who at 102 was still loving life. Yet my mother wakes up every morning happy, and ready to embrace the joys of the day. She has an extraordinary youthful and curious mind. During that week we saw her discover virtual reality and join our family on the dance floor. Why is she so happy all the time?

In one word: she has wisdom.

Happiness is a fleeting feeling, unless it’s grounded in wisdom. So my wish for all the people I love is for more wisdom.

With wisdom happiness is transformed in a quasi-permanent state. You will have moments of sadness, like when you lose a loved one, but overall, wisdom will anchor happiness in your life.

About 10 years ago I took a course on wisdom from Harold Bullock. He wrote Sharper Strokes. Living Smarter… not Harder. This started me on the pursuit of wisdom. And, as most of his book and course is based on the ancient wisdom of King Solomon, I started reading the Proverb of the day first thing in the morning, and I usually spend a few minutes thinking about the daily message. There are 31 proverbs, one for each day of the month. After more than ten years, I still discover new insights. (I recommend The Message version.)

The pursuit of wisdom is a lifelong journey. You get wiser as you learn, but there is no perfect human wisdom. The benefits of the pursuit of wisdom are incremental, exactly as predicted in the book by Darren Hardy The Compound Effect. The benefits are 100% predictable. The wiser you get - the happier your life.

You become wiser about yourself.

You “know thyself” as Aristotle taught. You know your strengths, and your weaknesses. You live in your strength zone. You are not self-critical, you become grateful for your gifts. You are neither dependent on other people, nor independent and detached. You accept the interdependencies with the people in your life as gifts completing you.

You become wiser about others.

You can assess people better. You don’t let them push your buttons. You learn to love them unconditionally, yet you do not hesitate to implement boundaries. Your emotions and feelings do not cloud your judgment about people. You become grateful for the people who love you.

You become wiser about situations.

You develop discernment. Discerning truth, motives, consequences and especially unintended consequences, protects you from entanglements like: debt, bad jobs, gossip, and bad association. You can choose the best long-term outcomes, even though the short-term may look more attractive. You don’t waste time, energy or emotions on situations you can’t influence (like the US elections). In a word you become strategic about your life.

Wisdom = Peaceful = Happy

What I observed in my own changes is a growing peace about people and events. Call it growing emotional maturity. The fact is I rarely get agitated about anything. Wisdom gives you calm focus. With a calm spirit, you think better and make better choices - choices that lead to a happier life.

How to become wiser.

I wish I could sprinkle you with fairy dust, and voilà you’re wise. Unfortunately acquiring wisdom is a personal adventure. Nobody can do it for you. However we can accelerate the process if we follow John C.Maxwell’s counsel that the source of wisdom is not experience but examined experience.

Here are four strategies to become wiser:

1- Association

Who you spend time with is critical to develop wisdom. Spend your time with fools. Or spend it with wise people. They both will influence you. We all have limited time available. Why spend it with people who will not advance our wisdom?

2- Mentored

Notice that I am using the word mentored, not mentor, or mentoring. This is about us accepting to be mentored. While Association is a group experience, being mentored is a one on one activity. Select your mentors carefully based on the evidence their life provides. Bonnie and I are blessed with three couples who have influenced our lives for the better for 25 years.

The qualities you want from a mentor(s) are:


Can they see past the immediate situation to perceive unintended consequences? Can they judge people accurately and identify who should be avoided?


Opinions vary as to the depth of knowledge a mentor needs to have to be effective. Some outstanding coaches can be very effective in fields they don’t know by asking the mentee open ended questions. But I believe that good knowledge of the field considered improves mentoring as mentor and mentee will start with a common vocabulary. If you want a health mentor, you seek someone with practical knowledge of the field. You want especially applied knowledge. They have to demonstrate personal mastery of the topic. You don’t ask an obese person to be your weight loss mentor.

High EQ

Emotional maturity (high Emotional Quotient) is essential for your mentor to guide you with objectivity. It’s especially important when our own emotions may cloud our judgment. Not that the mentor has to be detached or indifferent to our emotions, far from it. They need to be aware of our emotional biases to guide us.

3- Reading

The act of reading non-fiction books will develop your thinking abilities. In a Twitter and Instagram world, long reads are more important than ever. Following the development of an author’s ideas builds your ability to focus. Focus is fundamental for strategic thinking. Books provide the “examined” experiences that John C. Maxwell recommends - the examined experiences of other people save us from making costly mistakes.

Reading gets better with practice. I learned to read in French. I had to really push through many English books before they became easier. In my pursuit of wisdom in life, leadership and business, I have read over 1,000 non-fiction books about business, success and personal growth. The sum of all the examined experiences in these books has provided guidance for many challenging situations in our life.

4- Thinking

The founder of IBM, Thomas Watson, had a sign over his desk that read THINK! John Maxwell has a “thinking chair” where he reflects quietly. I take long walks alone on “my” beach. To think you need quiet. Shut down distractions. Decide what you want to think about. You may want to have a sketchpad or notebook to map out your thoughts and the conclusions you reach.

I am a quiet thinker. I think in my head. Many people ( a lot of women) need to talk aloud to think through situations. Find a friend who is an excellent listener and explain your need to talk things through. Ask the person to simply listen (husbands take note).

Realize when you’re “spinning” rather than thinking. Sometimes our emotions cause a spinning loop when we do not progress. This is when a notebook helps. I write the spinning thought down and I go back to what I really need to think about.

Thinking in steps is when you don’t have the time, or can’t reach a conclusion yet. Again a notebook helps pause the thinking session until you do more research. Or often you simply need to let the matter rest and give time to your subconscious mind to work things out while you sleep. I find that If I have written the matter before I go to sleep, I often wake up with a clear solution.

We hope that these reflections help you grow your wisdom. This is not because you’re not wise. Wisdom is a progressive thing. We all need more of it. We all need to keep pursuing it until our last breath.

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