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Wisdom is our capacity to take in the experience of life; infuse it with an intention and then return it to the world in service of another.
– Anne McGhee Stinson

Wisdom. It is the substance of sages and endures in the echoes of long ago kings. But here in the jumbled cacophony of the 21st century, the living voice of wisdom is often drowned out by the stammering demands for results, accomplishment, achievement, growth, wealth, fame, success. Is there still a place for wisdom in our culture; in our communities; in our hearts?

I came to explore the concept of “wisdom” in a somewhat roundabout way. Having devoted my talents and energy to helping others explore and express their fullest potential, I was eventually led into a career where good fortune enabled me to work with senior executives and managers in some of the largest, most successful companies in the world. These are all successful, competent people with massive responsibilities and the expected rewards that accompany such success: wealth, power, position.

After a time, I noticed an interesting pattern that was present among the action items I find on my clients’ to-do lists. I discovered things that had nothing to do with executive priorities or objectives. Instead, these unexpected items revealed deep longings and a passionate desire to make a difference well beyond the scope of executives’ jobs.

Sometimes the people I work with have already found outlets for those interests, channeling their efforts into worthy causes: environmental issues, helping the needy, mentoring at-risk youth, raising funds for medical research changing the world! More interesting was my discovery of how much passion, how much heart goes into their efforts. From my point of view as a coach, I watch their eyes light up; I see how energized and enthusiastic they become when they talk about their favorite causes.

And so, I began to wonder: if these powerful executives could work for 30+ years to acquire everything the world teaches us is important, and then, as they near the end of that journey, achieve their heart’s desire in activities that bring them great satisfaction in serving others, why must it take 30+ years before they – and we – begin to realize this?

I began to ask: “What happens to all of our attention and energy when it is no longer directed toward outward expressions such as building businesses, homes, families, wealth, possessions, and prestige. What happens when that attention and energy get redirected inwardly instead and we begin to examine our lives? The last year has forced many of us to do just that.

We human beings have a vast capacity for experiencing wondrous achievements along with the ability to tolerate cruel and often long hardship. Those with wisdom look beyond the circumstances of experience to discover the meaning those circumstances brought into their lives, and in so doing their lives become rich with the blessings of meaning.

The epic events of these past two years presented us an opportunity to direct our thoughts and attention inward, to explore the depths and dimensions of our existence and now we have an opportunity to share what we are discovering.

In Service to Another

I believe that wisdom is passed on through service. Service needn’t mean becoming a missionary or changing the course of one’s life. Amazingly, service can be as simple as offering a kind word, a gentle smile, sharing a story, even a kind thought or the authentic forgiving of a past grievance.

However, the best intentions on the planet mean absolutely nothing if they are not expressed through action. Wisdom is an expression of our inner being and as such it must be tethered to an action for the benefit of others for it to exist beyond a moment in time. Not only does your individual capacity for experience become restricted, but the larger community languishes without your wisdom.

An experience comes into our life. If it gets lodged because of judgments, we place upon the experience it will deplete the essence of our learning. If we don’t honor our own experience, it will deplete the essence of our learning. If we don’t share the value of our experience, it will deplete the essence of our learning. The path requires that the energy of our lives continue its journey and become fully expressed. Infused with your gratitude for the lesson it becomes wisdom and is anchored upon the earth for others to benefit from. Thus, it becomes an expression of love; an expression of soul.
It seems to me that if we learned nothing else this past year, we learned that there are far stronger desires within us, that go beyond acquiring more “things” so that, as we mature, we may experience a peculiar urgency – a profound yearning for more authentic relationships and the opportunity to share and to serve.

So, let us end 2021 by considering deeply what we’ve learned and how we can apply that toward creating a compelling future. One in which our increasing empathy and compassion for one another lead to greater understanding and opportunity for all. The future needs our wisdom. Let’s create it together.

If you would like to learn more about how InteraWorks and the Best Year Yet Foundation can work with your company or foundation to create a huge impact for the nonprofits you support, please reach out for a conversation: info@interaworks.com

Anne McGhee-Stinson

Managing Partner + Director of Practice