Valjean Clark

Words of wisdom

I have been thinking about how words of wisdom don’t really mean anything to a person until they experience a situation that infuse the words with meaning.

“Work isn’t everything”

Here’s an example of words of wisdom: “work isn’t everything”. I remember in my 20s how much meaning and purpose I got from work. I remember disliking any advice about work-life balance, but I also knew that the words held truth, and that I would not have a fulfilling life if I was focused solely on work. But it didn’t really mean anything to me until I had a burnout moment. After that burnout moment, the words meant something different to me. They were the same words, but now I have a personal experience to connect it to.

What’s interesting is that there was no way I could have preempted this lesson and or somehow learned it sooner. I needed to prioritize work for a while to give myself the confidence that I could work hard, learn useful skills, and be valuable on a team.

These sayings even have different meanings person to person. For example, we all know people who treat work as just a paycheck. I personally don’t feel that way - I need to like my work. So “work isn’t everything” for me is more of a reminder to take a longer term view. I remember work problems that felt so important five years ago that don’t mean anything to me today, while there were other experiences I was having at the time, like honing my skills in the outdoors, that I absolutely treasure having spent time on.

So, this “work isn’t everything” saying, to me, is more about perspective. In fact, I’m finding it leading me to search for more meaning in my work, because I want to look back ten years from now and be proud of what I worked on, in the same way I’m proud of me spending more time engaging with my interest to write recently, or of engaging with therapy to confront some old demons.

“Know your limits”

In sports and outdoor activities, there is similarly good advice to “know your limits” to avoid injury. It’s great advice, but a concrete idea of a “limit” doesn’t really exist until you run into one. Once you have hit a limit, it means something. After my ACL tear five years ago, and even more so after the long and humbling road of complications and recovery since then, I understand limits better. I know how it feels to be approaching a limit now that I know where the limit is. I don’t go for that extra rep anymore in the gym, or that extra mile on the trail. I can work up to new levels of strength or performance by just showing up to my activities every day and increasing things steadily.


I’ve been wondering to myself if there are any takeaways from these musings.

Perhaps advice to others should be more temporal? Like “hey, work seems to be taking over your entire life, and that’s ok, just do me a favor and watch out for signs that you’re neglecting other parts of your life”. Though I wonder if anything that softens a lesson will just end up delaying it.

Perhaps these words of wisdom could be somehow “activated”? Maybe there is an intentional way to search your limits without slamming into a wall (e.g. a big injury or burnout)?

Or, perhaps, humans just have to go through these experiences generation after generation. And those of us who have learned similar lessons can reminisce and share stories together, while those that haven’t yet found meaning in these words of wisdom must forge ahead until they do.