“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9
When you’ve been around as long as I have, you can look back over your life and note the events that changed your perspective and influenced how things turned out for you. They’re called turning points. They’re few and far between, and with good reason. Too many and your life would be one big chaotic mess.
Of maybe five or six major turning points that truly influenced the outcome for me, one stands apart, and I’m going to share it just might make a real difference for you, as it did for me.
I’m not exactly a bible scholar, but I do have a thing for the simple poetic wisdom of the Book of Ecclesiastes. I actually have my own versions of some of its key messages that I recite from time to time, including this one: The longer you live and the wiser you become, the more you’ll realize how little you know … and how little it matters.
I know I’m no poet. It can’t be helped.
Anyway, I was introduced to Ecclesiastes at a time when I needed to learn an important lesson – that all the knowledge and achievements in the world don’t add up to beans if you can’t enjoy or at least experience the precious moments that you’re here on Earth. Soon enough, it will all be over, and you don’t get to take anything with you.
My problem was that I’d spent a good part of my life distracted by questions like, Why am I here? and What’s my purpose in life? The day I decided to stop searching for answers and simply experience life was a big turning point. Ironically, that was when the answers came: When I quit overthinking and focused simply on doing and being.
Like me, I see a lot of you spending God knows how much time searching for answers to distracting questions like the ones I was after or others like How to be successful? How to be happy? How to be rich? How to be famous? How to be more productive? How to be less anxious? How to be [fill in the blank]?
Here’s the thing. Someday, you may very well look back at your life and realize you’ve found the answers you sought, but like me, you’ll also realize that you didn’t find them by asking a lot of questions. I know that sounds paradoxical, so let me explain.
Life is actually very basic. You’re born with survival instincts. You learn trial and error at an early age (walking and such). In school they teach you how to reason (hopefully). From there you go out and experience and make decisions. Choices. You gain confidence from good ones and learn lessons from bad ones. Rinse and repeat.
That little snapshot of life reveals the four elements that I think matter most in determining how things turn out for you: Instincts, smarts, experience and choices. Everything else, including all the questions everyone searches for answers to, are determined by those key factors … plus a little luck. OK, maybe a lot of luck.
In any case, there are no shortcuts to the outcome. The sooner you realize that and quit searching for them, the sooner you’ll achieve the outcome you’re looking for. I know some of you may think it’s different now. What with social media, the blogosphere, self-help books, seminars, and all that, you may think the answers are out there. Well, they’re not.
Don’t just take my word for it. That little passage from Ecclesiastes 1:9 at the top of the post says it all. Things are not different now. They’re the same as they’ve always been. It would be tragic if some of you spent your entire lives without realizing how true that is. All I can say is, I’m glad I learned that lesson sooner, rather than later.
Image credit Yasmeen via Flickr
A version of this originally appeared on entrepreneur.com.