Jon Carroll wrote a wonderful column on July 5, 2000 titled “As You Get Older.” The whole thing is worth reading but there is a section that begins “This is your challenge…” that reads like poetry. So I have re-formatted it as blank verse, it contains a number of observations on advice and influence that I try to bear on mind as I get older. My favorite line is “the search for validation is baggage, and you need to travel light.”
This Is Your Challenge
You have to be so smart that no one knows how smart you are. You are playing a different game now. The game is called "Who was that masked man?" The masked man was you. You have left behind the silver epiphany. You have said the thing that will make it better. People will get it or they won't. As Maimonides teaches, the best gifts are anonymous. You can get so much more done if you don't worry about credit. If you haven't gotten credit already, you're not going to get it. The search for validation is baggage, and you need to travel light. You need to remember what you don't know and not think of it as a failure. Think of what you do know. What you know is not a weapon; it's a gift.
The Best Gifts Are Anonymous
A note on “As Maimonides teaches, the best gifts are anonymous.”
When I first read this I was unfamiliar with Maimonides, a medieval Jewish scholar who authored “A Guide For the Perplexed” and “The Mishneh Torah” among other works. In his Laws of Charity, 10:7–14 he defines “Eight Levels of Charity.” The highest level is to strengthen a poor person in a manner they are no longer dependent upon charity. The next three levels involve some level of anonymity:
- giving in a way that donor and recipient are not know to each other, relying on a trusted intermediary,
- giving in a way that the recipient does not know who the donor is, but the donor knows who the recipient is,
- giving in a way that donor does not know the recipient but the recipient knows who the donor is
Two Other Observations from “As We Get Older”
You have learned to trust your own brain more because it has been around enough to see the patterns. Among the patterns it sees is the kind of patterns it does not understand. This is the beginning of wisdom, although sometimes it feels like dying.
Wisdom and fear feel a lot alike when you’re inside them. The challenge is to figure out which is which. Your only advantage: You know that wisdom and fear feel a lot alike.
The “Wisdom and fear feel a lot alike” reminds me of
“There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots.”
Harry Copeland (1896-1976) in a 1934 profile.
You can substitute many professions for pilot.