I want to be wise.
That’s a fine goal, but it’s a little abstract. I think that wisdom, like happiness, is something that can only be obtained indirectly — it’s an emergent phenomenon, always coupled to other life experiences.
So let’s get more specific: I want to understand the world more clearly, and I want to apply that understanding to make better decisions. This isn’t a strictly scientific understanding of the world — it needs to be more personal. I want to understand people, including myself.
My favorite way to learn anything is simply by doing — the more “practice” I have interacting with people, the more I will understand. Currently, my personal reservoir of wisdom is informed by decades of interacting with friends, colleagues, teachers, teammates, co-founders, and even a few enemies. I’ve already started to notice compound returns on wisdom — I’m generally much better at living now than I was a few years ago. This implies that the upside to getting wiser now (as opposed to later) is immense.
So, how do I get wiser, faster? This is somewhat impossible, as wisdom just takes time to soak in. However, in the spirit of always striving for excellence, I have found some shortcuts.
The first is extrapolation. I assume that as I continue living, I’ll keep getting wiser. So, I ask:
What advice would my older self give my current self?
I can’t answer this definitively, but I can make an approximation based on the answer to a similar question:
What advice would I give to my younger self?
The answer will be different for everybody, but I suspect that we won’t actually need to extrapolate much. In my case, the same general advice I would tell my younger self (“loosen up”, “that thing doesn’t matter as much as it seems”, “focus more on important relationships and less on everything else”) still apply to my current self. For all my efforts at self-betterment, I really do tend towards the same categories of mistakes.
This transitions well into the second shortcut — Christianity. I think that religions, in general, provide a useful set of boundaries for life. The counter-intuitive truth that discipline == freedom, constraints yield better art, etc… are well understood.
However, Christianity is great because of the humility involved — acknowledging that this world was created by something infinitely smarter than us, and that we literally can’t live up to any perfect standard by our own willpower… it really takes the pressure off. That humility reduces anxiety, which (I think) is a symptom of wisdom.
You could probably achieve a partial version of this humility without any religion — for instance, by just considering the lifespan of the universe, and realizing how small & insignificant our planet is in the midst of that. That perspective makes it tough to be overly proud of anything we do in the ~100 years we have to move around & be alive. However, I’m not sure how comforting that actually is :)
Anyways, there are plenty of valid strategies to wisdom (for instance, just talking to older people). I think that simply continuing to ask the the question is the most important step… seek & ye shall find… all that good stuff!