How To Make Wisdom

I guess I’m supposed to be wiser now.  After all, I’m 40, so I’m older.  This is the age where I can legitimately look at a teenager and say, “I have neckties older than you.” Seriously.  I mean, I wouldn’t wear any of them, but I have them.

Being wise sounds like a skill, right? It’s not. I didn’t learn it. What I understand today that I didn’t get back then is that wisdom doesn’t grow in like gray hair or come in a gift-wrapped box for your 39th birthday.  No. Wisdom comes from the most boring place possible. It comes from repetition – years and years of unexpected repetition.

wise1Repetition of the same events and repetition of the same people have been a constant theme throughout my life and the lives of many others I’ve spoken to.  That “wide-eyed wonder” that we urge 20-somethings to never lose is something we all once shared. It comes from not knowing what is out there in the big wide world and having yet to experience it yourself. Over time, you do and you start to become more savvy about what’s around you.  Hopefully, you manage to learn the warning signs to steer clear from familiar mistakes.  We call that wisdom, but it’s really just an annoyed case of, “I’ve already seen how this movie ends. I’m not dealing with this nonsense again.”

I remember looking for summer jobs in high school. Drawn in by ads promising high commissions and flexible schedules, I’d find myself at sketchy health insurance seminars in dilapidated hotel ballrooms or bizarre chanting sales team motivational meetings. It sounded good at the time. From $20 pizza coupons to scissors that cut pennies, I had more than my share of wares to peddle on family, friends, and old people who I made get up and answer their doors just so they can slam it back in my face.

At first glance, those jobs seemed great. No food prep? No clock to punch in? They felt like such sweet freedom from what others were doing. On the day that I purchased my first set of sales materials, I’d excitedly set them up for friends and show my whole infomercial-style presentation.  Sawing through rope with butter knives, I’d see the looks on all of their faces and confidently head out into the world with a sense of determination.

Before long, it became clear that no one was buying anything from a door-to-door knife salesman. All I had was a sunburn, an uncomfortable tie that hangs in my closet today, and a pile of unsold sharp objects that I still owed money on.  This dream job was already over and I had made a grand total of negative 75 dollars.

My search for employment continued, but my standards were growing a bit higher. New rule – no more pyramid schemes or knife sales.  That wide-eyed excitement for false promises was gone.  As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as free shrimp. So when I found what appeared to be another too-good-to-be-true sales job in the local paper once more, I made sure to ask the woman on the phone, “Is this Cut-Co knives?”  She chuckled and cheerily assured me it wasn’t.

When I finally arrived at the dirty and possibly haunted office building to fill out the application, the receptionist I spoke to was sitting on a folding chair next to a table covered in an endless supply of clipboards. Clipped to the top of each board was all the paperwork I had to fill out and written at the top of each piece of paperwork were the words “Cut-Co Knives”.

As my eyes read over those eleven letters, I stopped short right in the center of the room and turned to the receptionist. We locked eyes and I dropped the clipboard to the floor with a loud thud before walking out.

And that is where wisdom comes from.  It’s not from a magic spell or a special quote. It comes from being knocked down and lied to. It comes from frustration and anger. It comes from all those things in our lives that we try so desperately to avoid.  Yet, when we don’t, we learn from them and grow. The pain we are forced to deal with is momentary, but the lesson it teaches lasts forever.

It’s not just events that wise us up, but people too.  As life goes on, you run into the same characters over and over again.  Some may be positive and some may be negative, but many are the same. There’s the guy who has no money but promises that if you work with him, you’ll make “more money than you can imagine”.  There’s the friend who talks terrible about everyone else to you and, as you later learn, talks terrible about you to everyone else. There is the buddy who makes up fake stories for no possible reason other than the love of lying. These are just some people I’ve met that I know you’ve met too. They might have different names and faces, but they’re the same.  Sooner or later, you hopefully start to recognize a pattern.

This is the part where I would talk about how important it is to guide your children through the world based on your observations, but it’s not.  For starters, they have to make their own mistakes. We all get that. We say it all the time to each other. For some of us, though, our actions in this case don’t match our words.  Even though we should let them fail on their own, we’ll do whatever we can to share our worldly knowledge and keep them from harm.

I have some bad news though. It won’t matter. They’ll do it anyway. Did it matter to you as a kid when an adult tried to tell you a definite outcome based on some old story about people you figured were probably dead? Nope. Well, unfortunately, we’re the old stories now. Our words are as ancient to them as those we turned a deaf ear to decades ago.

For example, my daughter Olivia once had a friend who told her she was moving to Spain over the Summer.  This world traveler had also claimed to be a secret witch who was allergic to the color gray, so I kind of knew what we were dealing with. I tried what I could to explain that it was all a lie and not to be sad about her wicked friend’s imaginary departure, but it was to no avail. It wasn’t until school started in September and this witchy little girl was sitting in class without Spanish citizenship that my daughter finally believed. I just had to wait it out.

Kids make their own mistakes and your life experiences won’t be enough to sway them from their own – no matter the age.  Sure, your kid’s Dad might have hated selling knives door-to-door, but this is the new generation of knives.  Maybe it will be different this time and there’s only one way to find out.

So, there you are one day – watching a familiar knife presentation from a kid wearing your 20-year-old tie. Hopefully, they’ll reach a world of wisdom on their own one day. No one will hand it to them. They’ll just have to learn from their own mistakes. After all, that’s what we did.