11/13/14

The Curse of Experience



In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.
Suzuki
With age comes wisdom, right? Not necessarily. With age, the only thing that really comes is the fact that you have been on this earth longer than those younger than you. With that extra time you might have had more experiences than younger people. But unless you are able to learn from your experiences, and apply those lessons learned properly, the only thing you get is stubbornness and arrogance. 

Wisdom is the ability to learn from experience, nothing more. It’s not a magical knowledge that shines on you as you speak. It’s not some level up where you can now select from a new skill set, as if life worked like a video game. It’s the ability to relate and compare a situation you currently face with a previous situation, and your ability to apply what you previously experienced.

Well, that’s simple enough. Live and learn, right? Not really. Just because you learned something didn’t work once, it doesn’t mean it won’t work always. Just because it worked once, it doesn’t mean it will work every time. And that is where true wisdom comes in, the ability to look at everything with the enthusiasm of a novice.

The more you know, and the more you experience, the more you will assume your experience will give you the right answer. You will tend to dismiss new ideas, thinking that your way is the only way. You will dismiss the beginner, assuming that your experience and seniority gives you enough knowledge to know better than others. But the reality is this experience will hinder you more times than it will help you, if you leave it unchecked.

There is a power that comes from the endless possibilities of not knowing “better.” Beginners never stop to consider their limitations, as they are willing to take the risks of failing in attempts to fly. Zen Buddhism calls this Shoshin, or the “beginner's mind.” It means to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a any subject, even when dealing at an advanced level, just as a beginner would. And here is where age and experience hinders us.

We tend to let past failures hold us back. We tend to let past victories give us an attitude of arrogance and contempt over younger generations. True wisdom is not about knowing better, but about knowing enough to realize how much more you have to learn.