Three thousand years ago, King Solomon wrote: “[L]et the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance…” (Proverbs 1:5, NIV).
This ancient exhortation, part of a collection of pithy wisdom sayings available to us today in the biblical book of Proverbs, reflects the very choices people must make for personal, emotional, and intellectual growth.
Fail to make these three choices, and you effectively sabotage both your professional and personal life.
Look for Wisdom
With apologies to King Solomon, I’m going to take the third part of his saying and put it first in this article’s sequence. I’m confident he won’t mind, not just because he’s…well…dead, but because the third item in Proverbs 1:5 actually reinforces and underlines the first two.
Those who desire to be wise and successful should “listen and add to their learning,” but it’s important that they “listen” to the right sources.
The importance of listening to the right people is why Solomon qualifies the first part of Proverbs 1:5 with the second. Don’t just “listen” and “add to [your] learning,” make sure you are getting proper “guidance” (NIV) or “wise counsel” (NKJV) in the process.
Solomon also says: “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14, NKJV).
Note Solomon doesn’t say there’s “safety” in a “multitude” of opinions!
The ancient Israelite king would probably warn strenuously against being swayed by mere opinion.
Solomon encourages that we seek safety in a multitude of counselors.
In other words, we must seek out and listen to men and women who are qualified to give us appropriate counsel.
If you want to start and grow a successful business, seek out men and women who have started and grown successful businesses. If their businesses are similar to the one you wish to start, all the better.
If you want to run for political office, seek out men and women who have successfully run for office. If they ran for a position identical to (or similar to) the one in which you are interested and/or ran in an area of the country similar to yours, all the better.
If you want to go into real estate investing, seek out other investors who have been successful with real estate.
You get the idea.
One of the worst things you can do is hobble yourself with advice from people who are not qualified to give you advice.
Does this mean that we can’t learn from people who have failed? Not at all. If anything, you can learn from their mistakes. And if they are humble enough and honest enough to admit their mistakes, all the better. They can also perhaps warn you of things they didn’t anticipate — things you may not be thinking of.
Chances are, you can frankly learn something from just about anyone. And so I’m not saying you should be elitist.
Take the time to listen to people’s stories, even if you perceive the person to whom you’re listening may not be entirely credible or reliable in certain areas of his or her life.
The bottom line, though, is that, while you should be kind to and listen to a variety of people, put your emphasis on the wisdom you get from qualified sources.
And be sure you seek out those qualified sources no matter what!
Listen to Wisdom
When it comes time to listen, make sure you are fully present and ready to listen. Doing so shows respect for that person and for yourself.
Don’t waste your time or energy — or the other party’s — by gathering up various sources of wisdom and then not paying attention to them.
Of course, reading wisdom is included in Solomon’s intent here when he says the wise should “hear.” After all, he wrote these sayings down!
This means that you can seek out wisdom from both living people and dead people! You can seek out wisdom from people to whom you have access as well as those you can’t get a meeting with.
We live in the Information Age! And that means we have access to enormous amounts of knowledge and wisdom — more so than at any time in human history!
Of course, the sheer volume of information available to us emphasizes the need (addressed in the first point of the article) that we seek out wisdom from appropriate, qualified sources.
Identify the areas of your life which need improvement or the knowledge, skills, and/or wisdom you need to achieve the goals in your life.
Then make a list of people — living and dead, those you know and those you don’t — who are successful in those areas and/or who have achieved the goals (or similar goals) you have set for yourself.
Then make a list of the ways in which you can access their knowledge and wisdom, such as:
- Have they given a TED Talk?
- Have they given other lectures or talks which are available, say, on YouTube?
- Have they written a book?
- What articles have they written and in what publications?
- Is it possible to get a meeting with this person (in-person, over the phone, or online)? If so, how?
- Do they have a presence on social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, or whatever)?
Find out how you can get access to them or their content — and start engaging!
And that’s the key: Engage!
Don’t skim in your reading or “zone out” in your listening. Engage!
Listen actively. Take notes. If practical or possible, ask questions.
Learn from Wisdom
As you actively engage in your reading and listening, you will begin to learn what you need to learn. But your journey has only begun.
It takes more than reading a book or watching a lecture to learn new content or acquire greater wisdom.
Here are some ways you can make sure the material really sinks in:
- Read or listen to the content multiple times.
- Try to rewrite what you’ve learned in your own words.
- Discuss the material with family and friends.
- Write down any questions you can think of, and then look up the answers to those questions.
- Practice teaching the content (formally or informally). John Maxwell says: “You never really know something until you teach it to someone else.”
- Start implementing the material you’ve learned.
The last point is perhaps the most important of all. Don’t just listen or passively learn something. Actively learn it — by doing it!
(Disclaimer: My advice to implement what you are learning is predicated of course on the assumption that what you’re learning is ethical and will make a positive contribution to those around you and in your life).
Bottom line: If you want to be wise and successful, you must look for wisdom, listen to wisdom, and learn from wisdom.
Best wishes as you get started!