Most of us understand what it feels like to be vulnerable and protect ourselves at various points in life. We’re just emerging from two years of wearing masks, after all. This need to protect ourselves is also true on a deeper, soulful level because our culture is not friendly to Wisdom Seekers. There are forces out there doing theirdamnedest to hijack your heart-head-gut-intuition power, hindering your ability to embrace Wisdom. So many of us can relate to living La Vida VUCA—being vulnerable to chaos and uncertainty rather than savoring the clarity, commitment, and equanimity born of Wisdom.
Wisdom takes many forms and expressions. Still, an accepted definition is: “the soundness of an action or decision concerning the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” Today, I’m offering a guide to help you protect that Wisdom—a how-to for understanding the forces that can derail the work of embracing and living your deepest calling. The hope is that by understanding and recognizing these forces of chaos, you can better understand how to be resilient and live authentically aligned with your values.
A healthy ego is a good and necessary thing. You need it to feed your willpower, to be receptive to helpful feedback (or feed-forward as I prefer to call it). However, your ego can be your own worst enemy. An imbalanced, overactive ego is usually a protective mechanism signaling insecurity. We see that when people are judgey, materialistic, moody, and more. Because the ego is outward facing, it shrouds itself in layers of externalities (titles, position, material possessions) and loves making comparisons. The ego is no fool—it knows how to convince you that these externalities are important—and it’s adept at distorting what lies beneath: your vulnerable, powerful, and most authentic self, i.e., your Wisdom.
Your ego causes you to feel you should be more successful by now (whatever that means), that you should be a better fill-in-the-blank; you should be thinner; you should, you should. My best advice? Stop should-ing all over yourself. Sometimes, as Joseph Campbell said so well, we must let go of the life we planned to accept the one waiting for us.
Get to Know Your Gremlins
A Gremlin is a hyper-vigilant naysayer whispering in your ear. Sometimes, Gremlins are helpful; ear-whispering can keep you safe from danger, embarrassment, etc. However, being Gremlins, they don’t understand that it’s often necessary to take a risk to push through to your goal. Gremlins love chaos; Wisdom offers them no fun playground in which to wreak havoc. And they do it in sneaky ways.
Barry, the founder of a successful engineering company, knows about Gremlins. After selling his company, he arrived at a retreat I led, having been through many others that hadn’t enabled him to identify what might be next. As I heard more about his story, it didn’t make sense. So I dug further, and one of his Gremlins was sneakily hidden away for years. Unlike his business peers, Barry had not gone to an Ivy League school, which gave him a well-disguised feeling of being insufficient and unworthy. I asked him to tell me about anyone he could remember whose life he helped improve while CEO of his company, and stories flowed. Perhaps he could trade these stories for the “I didn’t go to the best school, so I don’t deserve to stop having to prove myself” tale his Gremlin kept whispering, I suggested. Instead, he realized how small things get stuck in our psyches and become significant obstacles, shushed the Gremlin, and tapped into the Wisdom that was there all along.
Make Your Perception Work for You
One of my favorite bumper stickers proclaims: “Don’t believe everything you think.” Perception is the lens through which you view reality. It takes self-awareness and presence to make it work for, not against, you. For example, a friend has been in a job he has hated for years now. He wanted to leave but had all kinds of reasons why it would be too risky and why the timing wasn’t right. Then, a few weeks ago, the company was sold, his division was consolidated, and he was given severance. His reaction? How unfair! My reaction? What a gift! Perception makes the difference.
Your perception acts as a gatekeeper, influencing what you have access to, what you see as possible, including the Wisdom you can bring forth. Once my friend opened up his perspective and saw this as a gift, he was off to the races, networking for a role he had dreamed about for months. As Gandhi once said, “A person is but the product of their thoughts…what they think, they become.
Wisdom is counter-cultural. Radical even. Our wise ones (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Margaret Atwood, Bob Dylan…) have always swum against the prevailing current. So it is no surprise that popular culture is not your friend when it comes to cultivating and embracing Wisdom, especially the Wisdom that comes with age. Ageism is everywhere, as is the “more is better, success at all costs” message that the American economy banks on. But, on the other hand, Wisdom speaks in a quiet voice – it doesn’t call attention to itself. You’ll rarely find it on billboards or social media or amidst the ubiquitous barrage of disparaging, ageist messages and images.
Far too often, stereotypes become ageist arrows we point at ourselves. Most people don’t appreciate how beautiful it is that we can continue developing and growing as adults. Once we have the tools to harness our energy, creativity, and Wisdom, we can begin to forge a vibrant, exciting path forward. People who have a positive mindset about aging tend to live, on average, seven and a half years longer.
Wisdom is the tool, the very essence of what is needed at this time. Because Wisdom is counter-cultural, cultivating your sense of Wisdom through engaging your heart, head, gut and intuition is activism at its finest. Wisdom is the starting place if we are to tackle our most daunting challenges, from climate change to economic disparity to racial equity.
Using your Wisdom is a calling; it’s about shining your light in a dark world. As civil rights activist Ella Baker said, “Give people light and they will find a way.” But wisdom, as Arrien and pretty much every other teacher, elder and guide understands, is essential.We know it when we see it. And we need it, no, scratch that—we need YOUR wisdom, urgently. Now you have a useful formula for unearthing your Wisdom, and a guide to protect it from a VUCA world and ensure its resilience.