by Achim Nowak

The Year of More Wisdom

December 31, 2023

Chip Conley is one of the few folks whose writing I read religiously.

A visionary thinker, Chip is the former Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy at AirBnb. These days, he’s best known as a best-selling author and Founder of the Modern Elder Academy. Chip’s new book, Learning to Love Midlife: 12 Reasons Life Gets Better with Age, drops this month.

Chip is a wisdom thinker. He champions wisdom as an essential life currency.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines wisdom as “the ability to make sensible decisions and give good advice because of the experience and knowledge that you have.”

I cringe. This is a very traditional – or should I say archaic - understanding of wisdom. Chip Conley makes it clear that while he was in his early 50s when AirBnb brought him on board - and the average age of the Airbnb founders and staff was 30 - he was, yes, hired for his experience. His job was to, in equal measure, learn from the wisdom of the younger folk he worked with.

The exchange of wisdom was a two-way street.

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

Maya Angelou

A more spiritual or religious understanding of wisdom suggests that it is, in fact, a divine gift granted by God, source, or higher power, whenever a believer sincerely asks.

If this particular highway to wisdom feels alien to you, I propose an alternative path. I DO believe in the power of conscious wisdom. And I believe that accessing more wisdom is available to anyone, regardless of age, regardless of spiritual practice.

The Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny offers 4 simple statements as wisdom gateways: These are 4 sentences that lead to wisdom: “I don’t know…” “I need help…”  “I’m sorry ...”  “I was wrong…” (courtesy of Chip Conley, The 4 Bridges to Wisdom, 12/12/23).

These statements, you ask? How exactly do these 4 very simple statements serve as bridges to greater wisdom? And how may these statements serve me in 2024?

Let’s drill down, shall we.

Your 4 Wisdom Gateways

1. “I don’t know.”

The pressure to know, to show we’re smart, to have a great answer, is all-pervasive. You may feel it at work, with your boss, your client, in a high-stakes meeting. If you’re a parent, you may feel it at home, around your spouse or your children. We unwittingly equate knowing things with being worthy. We are tempted to beat ourselves up when we don’t know something. At worst, we fake knowledge that we don’t have.

Let’s stop, please. We, of course, don’t have to know everything. The moment we allow ourselves to not know, we open the door to greater insight and learning. We create space for others to not know, as well. Whew. What a relief. We may also discover that there are certain things we’re not particularly interested in. We don’t know because we don’t feel a need or desire to know. How cool is it to know THAT? Wisdom.

2. “I need help.”

I like to joke that I don’t do anything alone. There is some truth to that. When I launched my first business in Manhattan, 20 years ago, I truly knew nothing about entrepreneurship (back to statement #1). I needed help. I joined a think tank for small business owners. I heard a lot of wisdom from my think tank comrades who were all more seasoned than I was. I absorbed their wisdom. It ignited my own wisdom. Being in this think tank was a transformative experience. It all began we me being clear that I DID need help.

The armor of going it alone is painful. It keeps us in psychic jail. When we invite help, we invite fresh perspectives, new insights, wisdom. We learn actual skills but, more importantly, our mental, emotional, psychic energies get stirred when we open the help gates. These energies are our inner wisdom playground. Play there. I do.

3. “I’m sorry.”

These simple words are such a compelling bridge to a richer, deeper emotional connection with another – and, in turn, a richer connection with our own thoughts, our emotions, our motives, perhaps our blind spots. Our inner self. I grew up in a family where saying “I’m sorry” didn’t happen too often. We were too busy defending ourselves. When you and I are on the defensive, there is little room for wisdom to speak to us. It isn’t pretty.

More importantly perhaps, “I’m sorry” inevitably orients us to greater empathy for what another person is experiencing. When I am capable of feeling, and expressing, more empathy for you, I am also able to do the same for myself. I step from the inner/outer battlefield into the vast meadow of more complex human experience that is at times messy, hurtful, flawed. When we both step into that meadow together, more compassion and wisdom are inevitable. We don’t need to figure it out. It will happen. We just need to choose to “go there.”

4. “I’m wrong.”

It is the ultimate surrender statement. I surrender perfection. I surrender pretense. I surrender the illusion of thought leadership. I surrender the fantasy of not ever making a mistake. I drop it all. And I own my behavior, and its potentially adverse impact on others. Fully. No ifs or buts.

I return to the word relief. Whew. What a powerful relief it is to drop into “I’m wrong.” To admit. When this statement is accompanied by a sincere desire to better understand our thoughts and actions, without berating ourselves, watch out. You have just unleashed a whole slew of new wisdom. And it took so very little.

Consider these 4 simple statements ever so often as you embark on 2024. Go, do your thing and pursue your goals. But whenever you find yourself stirred or agitated by circumstances, return to the 4 statements. Pause. Contemplate.

Wisdom will come.

The journey gets easier when it is fueled by more wisdom. Wisdom feeds on itself. It’s a beautiful thing.

Warmest wishes for an expansive 2024 that nurtures your soul!

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