Wisdom, for now and later


Eat honey, my child, for it is good;
    honey from the comb is sweet to your taste.
1Know also that wisdom is like honey for you:
    If you find it, there is a future hope for you,
   and your hope will not be cut off.

Proverbs (of Solomon) – Tanakh / Old Testament

I read this the other day, and got to thinking: I could do with a bit more of two types of wisdom.

Wisdom for now

When you sit to dine with a ruler,
    note well what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
    if you are given to gluttony.
Do not crave his delicacies,
    for that food is deceptive.

Most of the time I think about wisdom as short term: knowing the right (or best) thing to do in a given situation, and being able to do it. Things like judging fairly, or staying calm in a disagreement, knowing when to let something drop or when to fight your point, and how to do it well. And this type of wisdom is really important – there are loads of proverbs about it.

Wisdom for later

Put your outdoor work in order
    and get your fields ready;
   after that, build your house.

Critical path theory, c. 600 BC

But this proverb gets at a different sort of wisdom: the make-good-decisions-when-it’s-not-urgent-to-avoid-difficulty-later sort of wisdom. And proverbs is full of these too. On reflection, maybe they’re the same kind of thing, and only different because the consequences are felt in the short or longer term – easier today or easier tomorrow.

This wisdom for later is about doing the right things daily, about building things for tomorrow, about doing the boring work of maintenance or the hard, slow work of building foundations so that tomorrow will be better. It’s about staying away from the things that will hurt us now, and also about making decisions now that will help us to avoid the risk or temptation of trouble later – about applying the right kind of thin end of the wedge. It’s about investing in important things so that you can enjoy treasures that are all too rare, and things that are necessarily rare, because they’re what you built:

By wisdom a house is built,
    and through understanding it is established;
through knowledge its rooms are filled
    with rare and beautiful treasures.

May your treasures be beautiful and rare, and the honeycomb sweet.

Contact

Next time you read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a program that you like – why don’t you get in touch with whoever made it?

Not just the person who was in it – the ones we normally notice – but the people who made it too. Drop them an email, or even that hand written note that you always think about but never get around to.

Why did you like it? Is there something you had a (generous, non-snarky) question about, or something (of genuine potential interest to them) that you can share?

Try it – make it a light touch. It feels funny at first but gets ever-easier. They’re a person like you, and they’ll probably reply, which will probably be fun.*

*You have permission to stop after twenty unreplied-to contact attempts.**
** To different people.

Old year’s resolutions

  • What can you tick off already? Good work on those.
  • What do you need to quit – stop doing, stop trying to do, draw a line under, declare an amnesty for yourself, admit that it won’t get done, and let die with the old year?
  • Perhaps most crucially, what are the little things – acts of kindness that you’ve been thinking it might be nice to do, short emails to friends, decisions, bookings, commitments – that you can do, and get into the habit of doing, starting from right now? Today, the day before you make new year’s resolutions, everything you do is a bonus, a gift of the momentum that a frontlog brings that will make tomorrow better or easier for your future self – the self who’s arriving tomorrow.

Compound interest

We all know about compound interest in the world of money. Save £100 a month for thirty years at one percent interest** and you’ll have a little under £42,000 by the end of that time (compared to £36,000 at zero-percent).

Make that investment at 5% and suddenly you’ll hit £83,000.

10%*** makes almost £228,000.

It takes time, and the commitment to building something steadily. No tricks, no promises of outrageous returns, a degree of risk – but not when compared to not investing at all.

What if the interest we seek for our work – attention, respect, partnership, remuneration – could compound in the same way? Often it seems that we’re after a flash in the pan (Viral. Now.), or that we’re not building anything consistently at all.

Starting with almost nothing, drop by drip, brick by brick, little by little, we can build a mountain.

** 1% annually, calculated monthly

*** A reasonable return from a stocks-and-shares index fund

The end in mind

This post was lost in the Crocapocalypse – I’m reposting it with its original date.

Steven R. Covey’s first habit of highly effective people is to begin with the end in mind.

Where do you want to go?

What do you want to build?

It’s another way of asking: what’s your vision?

We can’t escape surprises, the contingent, serendipity, and we shouldn’t want to.

But thinking about ends is important.

As Covey says, it doesn’t matter how fast or well you climb the ladder if it’s leaning against the wrong wall.

If you’re not building something, you’ll probably end up with nothing.