Older and Wiser?

Before I officially jumped in with both feet to become a coach, I took a course called Coach Approach. This shorter program was designed to help me decide if coaching was something I really wanted to do. During the course, we did an exercise where we turned our back to the people at our table and told a story. The only rule was that it had to be something we were proud of. While the story was being told, the other people at the table would write down all the positive attributes about the person telling the story. Once the speaker was done, the table would discuss all the good things they had come up with, giving the story teller the unique experience of hearing people talk behind their back in a positive way. After the table had finished their discussion, they compiled all the most common attributes onto one list, and gave it to the speaker.

On my list that day were words like ‘wise,’ which was something I’d never viewed myself as before. In fact, the idea of being some sort of sage kinda made me uncomfortable. So the trainer suggested I do something she called, “flipping the coin.”

This is when you take an attribute and look at all the good things and bad things that come with having it. Heres what I came up with:

Positives to being called wise (how it’s useful, what it brings to your life)

  • Aware there is more to learn
  • Confident in what you know
  • Able to share your knowledge
  • Able to understand the importance of failure
  • Access to an inner knowing
  • Ability to recognize and leave situations that no longer serve you

Negatives to being called wise (problems that might arise, how it’s hurtful/keeps you stuck)

  • Might think you don’t need to learn anymore
  • Can be perceived as a know it all
  • Others might expect you to be perfect
  • Feel like you can’t fail or make mistakes

Seeing both sides of it really put things into perspective. I realized then that being wise had nothing to do with age, it had to do with awareness and knowing there was always more to learn, often through making mistakes. Being wise itself isn’t either good or bad. It’s knowing how to use the hard earned wisdom you acquire that really matters.

It clicked back then that learning and becoming wise means making mistakes, but somewhere along the way I forgot the importance of that lesson. When I turned 30, I picked up this idea that it was no longer okay to make mistakes. I still made them, but admitting to them became a problem.

In my 20s I made mistakes all the time, but some of the best learning came from managers who knowingly allowed me to make those mistakes. And I made some big ones then. For example, when I was in Human Resources I royally messed up an investigation by bringing everyone involved in an incident to talk at the same time. What I should have done was talk to each of the staff one-on-one. My boss at the time was amazing, she allowed me to make the mistake, we did what we could to rectify it, and I never did anything like that again.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve really had to let that go. Now that I run my own business, mistakes happen all the time. There is no manager to catch it and put me back on track. I’m solely responsible for noticing if something isn’t working. The pressure of that used to make me freeze at times. I wouldn’t know how to move forward, so I’d often just stand still, paralyzed by my own indecision. What I have learned though, is that moving forward in a way that isn’t perfect is better than not moving at all.

It’s important to remember that the learning does not end when you hit a certain age. It’s always acceptable to make mistakes, it’s what you do after you make the mistake that matters. Ask for forgiveness (from yourself or others you may have affected), learn the lesson and move forward with that newfound wisdom.