“It is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.” – Sherlock Holmes, from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes short story, The Man with the Twisted Lip.
While I’ve always been a fan of the Sherlock Holmes mystery stories, since reading the DK Big Ideas Book about Sherlock Holmes, I’ve gained new appreciation for the wisdom author Arthur Conan Doyle put into the mouth of his iconic character. That book mentioned a bevy of extremely quotable Holmes dialogue, but this is the first I wanted to analyze in depth for a series analyzing Holmes quotations. After all, many people seem to think it’s too late to get smart, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
As a strong proponent of lifelong learning, I greatly enjoy when sixty-somethings, seventy-somethings, and even eighty-somethings who pick up a new venture for the first time. This includes blogging, learning an instrument, or making YouTube videos. You’re never too old to try something new, and after all, wisdom starts with admitting you don’t know everything.
The very definition of wisdom is “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment,” or simply “the quality of being wise.” So, it makes obvious sense that an older individual should have more wisdom than a younger person. Holmes is then entirely correct, and yet, even some older folks seem to lack the very wisdom they should have gained simply through life experience.
While Holmes himself wasn’t referring exactly to lifelong learning, Doyle himself was indeed a lifelong learner. Doyle never stopped being well-read and kept up on many different subjects, as did the character Holmes; of course, in Holmes’ case, he was only focused on the subjects that helped him to solve cases.
Unfortunately, it’s true that wisdom isn’t something which comes naturally to everyone. Sure, if you don’t gain it early on in life through experience and knowledge, it can be very difficult to learn as an older adult. This is even more true in the 2020’s world of instant gratification, where we can seemingly have anything right now with just a few clicks of the mouse or a few taps on our smartphone. While tech provides us with many new ways to get things done faster than ever before, it often leaves people growing more lazy in the process. Why put in the work if there’s a fast and easy way to do it with an app or some other benefit of technology?
Plus, there is an increasing sense that ageism has become a real problem, especially in American society. As your body, mind and heart grow older, it can be easy to forget how much you have learned over the years. But, this doesn’t mean that the knowledge gained during these years becomes irrelevant; in fact, the truth is quite the opposite. Contrary to what many younger people are being told, your age does not define you. In fact, as we age, our experiences become increasingly valuable to us and to those around us.
I’m sick and tired of people telling me, and I’m thirty-five as of writing this essay, that I’m too old to make anything of myself. I went to university for four years, two in New Hampshire, and two in Massachusetts. But, if I were to continue my college education now, it would involve me practically starting over as a freshman. That’s not only insulting to me; it would accomplish nothing. Fortunately, I’ve been witnessing a movement to promote lifelong learning over the past few years; many university-level courses are being offered for low monthly subscription fees or even free as the demand for continuing education has skyrocketed.
The problem is that many job opportunities now demand not just a bachelor’s degree, but a masters degree in a specific field, sometimes even two master’s degrees in specific fields, just to qualify for the job opening. This is why so many people are starting their own businesses, making YouTube videos, writing blogs, and becoming social media influencers. To be honest, we will always need employees, but the “be your own boss” mindset is taking over because this age of credentialism and enforced corporate elitism is simply not sustainable.
So, Holmes’ wisdom is even more relevant now than ever. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go back to school, especially if you’re only a few credits short. But, before you mortgage your future for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars for a piece of paper that may end up not even being worth the paper it’s printed on in just a few short years, aim to become a lifelong learner instead. View education as an ongoing process, take courses as part of a self-enrichment journey, not as just a puzzle piece in a credits game for an accredited degree program.
For me, as I’m able to comfortably retire with my partner, I know how fortunate I am. Yet, while I could simply kick back and relax, I still retain the drive to continue to better myself, even in the face of anti-intellectualism, ableist, and ageist movements that attempt to stop me from achieving anything meaningful. Fortunately, a lot of people are in my position who are trying to protect those less fortunate from being taken advantage of, offering opportunities to express themselves openly and freely.
Unfortunately, many of us are not in a position where we can simply quit our jobs and strike out on our own. I get that. I was in that position myself until my mid thirties. But, I finally proved myself to just the right person at just the right time. I wasn’t always wise, but by 2020, I was wise enough to recognize the deal of a lifetime when I saw it and went for it. Now, I hope to give back to the world with whatever wisdom I can however I’m able. So, no matter what your age is right now as you read this, know wisdom is still within your reach, and with today’s tech, it’s likely right there at your fingertips.