When you’ve been around the block a few times, the experience gives you perspective. Whether it’s a useful perspective or not is really up to you — but, inevitably, you draw upon your own life to inform your decisions going forward. For most of us, at least, the so-called “wisdom of the aged” isn’t really wisdom at all — it’s just being able to learn from past mistakes.
I thought about this when I ran across this article about one person’s thoughts about the biggest wastes of time in their lives. They are good ones — like trying to make bad relationships work, or dwelling on your mistakes and shortcomings — but all of the time-wasters, by definition, are drawn from the writer’s own personal experience. The key is having the self-awareness to identify something that you’ve done as a waste of time in the first place, and the ability to learn from it and adapt your practices going forward, rather than stubbornly repeating the same mistakes over and over again.
And often the lesson isn’t something you can learn by reading or hearing about it — you’ve got to experience it yourself to really have the lesson sink in and leave a mark. How many people is the history of humankind have heard an older person counsel them about ending a job or relationship that just isn’t working and then rationalized away the advice by concluding that they and their circumstances were different? The best life lessons are those you learn yourself.
What would be the biggest time-wasters for me? To the extent anyone cares, there are two I would put on my list. One would be trying to follow the crowd and do what other people thought people in my circumstances should be doing — whether it is consciously trying to like music or TV shows or movies that just aren’t clicking for me, or “getting involved” in a bunch of activities because general “involvement” is good. Once I decided to just trust myself and go with what I liked, I eliminated a lot of waste motion.
And the other would be worrying — really worrying — about things you can’t control, either because they are far beyond your pay grade or because they are in someone else’s hands. Focusing on things that you can actually affect dramatically shortens the to-do list to things that matter, where you can personally make a difference and move the needle. That’s a life lesson, incidentally, that I’m drawing on right now.