Not Every Bit of Wisdom is Wise

The odds are your social media feeds are loaded with aphorisms sitting on top of images intended to be motivational or soothing. These short, pithy statements offer a bit of wisdom or general truth. These are common phrases you’ve heard over and over again. Their mere repetition imbues them with credibility. 

“Actions speak louder than words” and “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” are two examples of common aphorisms. They feel good. They feel right. And yet, sometimes we need to dig deeper than the surface of these adages to reveal a more complex truth. 

“Look up, always. Look back, never.”

You can find plenty of common sayings and quotes that remind us not to dwell on the past. These bits of wisdom encourage us to keep looking forward. If you’re prone to worrying over past regrets and mistakes there’s wisdom in the words Elsa belts out in the film Frozen, “Let it go!” 

These phrases, however, miss an important component of reflection. Sometimes looking back gives us the encouragement and fuel to move forward. 

I have a coffee mug from Pt. Barrow, Alaska. It reminds me of a time I spun a desktop globe in search of adventure and wound up landing on top of the world on the longest day of the year. It was one of the highlights of my adventure travel and led me to head to the bottom of the world nine months later to study penguins and other sea life. We can do hard things and survive to tell amazing stories of living life to the fullest. Sometimes we also need a reminder that we have done it before and we can do it again. 

Don’t be afraid to look back sometimes. It’s from there you can appreciate the view of how far you’ve come. It’s from there that you can identify where you’ve grown and where you still need to grow. 

“If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.”

Did you know this common statement is originally attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte? Sure, he experienced phenomenal success on the battlefield and rose to great power on the global stage. He also ended his life in exile. Maybe we want to take a closer look at his management advice before we accept it all at face value. 

Delegating, after all, is a vital leadership skill. In fact, you’ll find several missives on the subject throughout the Creative Blueprints blog. You’ll find those here: Great Leaders Delegate, The Art of Delegation, and Steps to Successful Delegation.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”

As with most aphorisms, this phrase gets repeated because it bears a measure of truth and wisdom. Mistakes are something to learn from. We falter. Get up. Assess what went wrong, make adjustments, and try again. Some of the greatest inventions came on the heels of great failures. Some of the innovations we use daily were the result of a mistake gone right. 

Yet sometimes the opposite of the coin is true. We need to know when to say “Okay, it’s time to call it quits.” Take what you can from the experience. Learn the lessons born of failure. And then move on to something else. 

There is time for everything.”

The idea behind this quote attributed to Thomas Edison fuels anxiety and overwhelm as we strive to do more within the parameters of days that don’t actually get any longer. This, along with its cousin, “You can have it all,” sets the stage for our unreasonable expectations of well proportioned work-life balance. 

We all dream of successfully climbing the corporate ladder, while keeping our homes clean and organized, our children successful and happy, and our relationships the stuff fairy tales are made of. The problem with these adages is that the punctuation gets placed before the accurate phrase is finished. “There is a time for everything we prioritize,” is a much more accurate statement. 

The reality is that no matter how good we are at managing our time, we still only have 24 hours in a day – and at least some of that has to be spent sleeping. We have only 7 days in a week. We have only 52 weeks in a year, and none of us, no matter how good we are, have any idea how many years we have in a lifetime until we’ve exhausted them all. 

You can have the life you want if you devote your time and resources to the things you prioritize. You can make time for everything that’s important to you by delegating the things you don’t need to do yourself (sorry, Napoleon) and saying no to the things that are lower priority for you.