If you continue to make poor choices in life, you are a fool. That’s what my mum and dad like to say. They regularly handed out sage advice to their children. Some of their advice I took with a grain of salt. Some others I took to heart.
Over the years I have learned to improve myself and to make better, smarter decisions. It’s not that I wanted to please Mum and Dad although I do want them to be proud of me. It’s because no one likes to be a fool.
A fool is someone who consistently does not learn from his or her mistakes.
A fool thinks that there is plenty of time.
A fool likes to make assumptions about other people and the world, and rarely stops to ask questions to verify these assumptions.
It sounded terrible when I spelled out what a fool does. In truth, we all make mistakes, we overestimate the amount of time we have left and base our lives on unhelpful assumptions to some extent.
Nevertheless, it is generally much preferred by society and our loved ones that we undergo a transformation to grow out of these “foolish” patterns. We are encouraged to seek personal development, to attain wisdom, and for a few particular individuals, enlightenment. The question is HOW.
Asking the Right Question
It has taken me a long time to think of the question “how can I be wiser”. It would have saved me from a ton of self-inflicted torment if I had asked myself this question earlier in life. Instead, I just focused on what I did wrong.
I have asked myself other questions as well. I firmly believe that asking questions is a great way to learn. You know the cliché “there is no stupid question”. Well, there certainly are questions that are phrased in a stupid way.
Good questions open your mind. Bad questions just bring you more doubts and insecurity.
I used to have a negative, nagging question in my head that was preventing me from nurturing my soul. It had hindered my growth until I learned to reframe it. It sounded like a question, but really it was just self-criticism. Looking back at my mistakes, I used to tell myself “how can you be so stupid”.
I labelled myself stupid with the little evidence that I had at the time and sent myself to psychological labour camp to work on my stupidity.
For the next few years, my mind was imprisoned. A prison with no bars, bounded by self-pity and guarded by the ghosts of past mistakes.
Let me tell you, those ghosts were fucking annoying. They liked to remind me of how stupid I was. For a period of time, I constantly hated how I felt and found myself wishing for a characteristic makeover.
I also wished for time travel. In other words, day-dreaming and magical thinking became my pastime activities.
During that time, I also had a weird relationship with self-pity. I was stuck in a loop of berating myself for holding on to an ex-boyfriend whom I should have let go, following by a small attempt to be kind to myself only to drown it with an enormous wave of self-pity. Gasping for air, I managed to come out of that wave and reflected on why I felt sorry for myself.
I realised that I was just hurting. And there it was. Recognising and acknowledging the pain in my heart, I no longer felt stupid. I also stopped feeling sorry for myself.
Pity is of no use to anyone.
“The moment you feel sorry for yourself you are totally completely frozen in potential.” — Sean Stephenson
After all, I did want to get out of the prison of my mind. I was a confused and vulnerable convict who committed an imaginable crime.
Watching Sean Stephenson’s Ted Talk (see below) has given me more courage to let go of the past and embrace new possibilities. Here are a few words from a wise person.
Tear down that prison. Emerge from self-pity and self-abuse and open up to love and exploration.
That is the message that I learned on that day. The day that I took a deep breath and rescued myself from the life-sucking wave of pity. I finally exhaled heavy emotions and past hurts so that I could make room for better things to come along.
Next, I tried to empty my mind like how you would empty a cup of cold, old tea.
Bruce Lee sums it up nicely:
“Empty your cup so that it may be filled.”
This really opened up my mind. An open mind is free and non-judgemental. An open mind is ready to learn.
The Difference Between Self-Worth and Self-Esteem
The first lesson that I picked up on the road to wisdom is about self-worth. A wise person knows one’s self-worth is the amount of respect that one pays oneself.
Your self-worth should be unconditional, it should not be tied to your looks, wealth, possession, and social status. For it to be healthy, it should also not be tied to others’ perception of your worth. Of course, you should take into consideration others’ feedback because it gives you an idea of how you come across to others. Feedback is important, but it is most certainly not the definition of who you are.
There is a distinguishing feature between self-worth and self-esteem. Unlike self-worth, self-esteem is conditional. It is often tied to your achievements and the way you live your life. If you haven’t done anything fruitful, it is no suprise that you feel shit about yourself.
Low self-esteem is the modern crisis of first-world citizens. Almost everyone I know including myself has struggled with self-esteem, and some of my friends are still struggling with this.
Just because lots of people seem to have self-esteem issues doesn’t mean that we should throw our hands up in the air and classify this as appropriate or acceptable.
It means that there is work to do, whether it be on yourself, your career, your relationship, or all of the above.
I wrote this in the hope to demonstrate to you how I began to work on myself. It is undeniably difficult AND rewarding. You might decide to do the same after a punch to the gut or a wake-up call, when you realise that you have been throwing away your potential.
Live well so you can die well. Wasting your potential is the opposite of living well.
You might begin the road to wisdom with the same lesson that I had. Or you might not. The choice is yours. The words from my mum and dad still ring in my ears. You become wiser by making better choices in life.
But first, take a deep breath and empty your mind.