What Were You Wrong About? Wisdom That Comes with Age

On Wednesday, I listed the eleven common irrational beliefs enumerated by Albert Ellis and Robert Harper in their book, A Guide to Rational Living. This book served as the launching point for a recent discussion at Ask Metafilter. RapcityinBlue asked, “What have you been wrong about, realized it, and it changed your life?” This question generated sixty quality responses.

While many of the respondents had (knowingly or not) managed to overcome one Ellis and Harper’s irrational beliefs, each answer is unique. Plus, many other folks unique pearls of wisdom gleaned from years of hard knocks.

I’ve taken the time to collate some of my favorite responses, little pieces of insight that ring true to me based on my own experience. (I’m quoting excerpts below, and linking back to the extended answers at Ask Metafilter.)

  • Ruthless Bunny wrote: “I thought being dour and sarcastic and always finding the problems with things was the way to go through life…Actually, solving problems, being upbeat and helpful to others is a MUCH better way to go through life.”
  • ottereroticist wrote: “I thought I was lazy and inherently broken when it comes to getting things done…I learned that unconditional self-friendliness is a much more effective productivity tool than a harsh and accusatory inner monologue.”
  • phunniemee wrote: “Most people aren’t out to get you. Most people aren’t sitting in silent, seething judgment of you. Most people are too busy worrying about themselves, just trying to get through this.”
  • rpfields wrote: “I thought I had to please everyone around me or something terrible would happen/be done to me. Conversely, I also thought that being “nice” to everyone meant they were “obligated” to do the same to me. At the same time I craved some kind of permission to pursue my goals, and harboured tremendous resentment for those who “got to” do things…I am a much happier person now that I allow myself to do as I please (within the bounds of kindness and legality, of course) and recognize that others have the right to do the same.”
  • sevenofspades wrote: “I thought that if something was hard work, it meant that I wasn’t good at it. Not true. If it’s hard, it just means I’ve never really worked at it before.” and “I thought that you had to impress people, win them over, or flat-out buy them somehow in order to get them to be your friend. Woah was that wrong. True friends just love your company.”
  • rabbitrabbit wrote: “I have learned that minding my own business has made me happier and made people like me more.”
  • kimberussell wrote: “If I mess up, I admit it. I’m human and make mistakes. That’s okay. If I don’t know how to approach a project, I’ll ask for help. If you think I’m stupid, that’s not my problem. I’m not going to get hung up on what people think.”
  • telegraph wrote: “There is nothing protective about pessimism. I was convinced for a long time that if you expect a poor outcome, it hurts less. It’s actually easier to cope with failure if you spend most of your time celebrating and expecting the positive, building up your reserves of happiness and strength, instead of creating huge unceasing loads of psychic stress based on assuming things will go wrong.”
  • changeling wrote: “I have learned that I don’t always need to prove I’m right, especially in casual conversation, especially about dumb crap that doesn’t matter.” also “I will change in ways I can’t even anticipate.”
  • St. Peepsburg wrote: “I was too prideful to listen to others, especially their feedback of me. I assumed they really didn’t understand, and if only I could explain it clearly they would see it as I do. Now, I love feedback.” also “I also believed other people caused my feelings of fear or anger, and that they needed to change in order for me to feel recognized and safe. Now, I don’t need people’s validation as much. I don’t need their constant reassurance. I know who I am. And when I feel angry, it is my anger. When I feel insecure, it is my insecurity.”
  • mono blanco wrote: “I learned it’s ok to be a dilettante. Nobody’s grading you. Since then I’ve learned how to play tennis, speak a smattering of languages, put up shower rods, draw sketches, and play some blues. All half-assed, but with huge enjoyment.”
  • still_wears_a_hat wrote: “I learned that I don’t have to prevent every possible thing I can from going wrong. That I can deal with stuff when it goes wrong instead of trying to prevent every possible problem. It’s made a huge difference.”
  • Sullenbode wrote: “Feelings don’t obey logic. Having no good reason to be upset doesn’t magically make me not upset anymore. Rather than argue with myself about my emotions, I’ve learned to recognize when they’re just passing clouds, and let them pass.”
  • JohnnyGunn wrote: “I have become much more transparent in my old age. I tell it like it is when it comes to how I am feeling and what I am thinking. That does not mean I get to be mean, but rather life is too short to play games. Here is what I am thinking. Love me for who I am because that is exactly what I will do for you. Accept you for who you are. Also, I try things now. Be it food, a book, an idea, a trip, whatever, try it once.”
  • FauxScot shared several gems, including: “I discovered that if I took my time, my quality really would go up.” “I also discovered that something was finished when I decided it was.” “Help people out. Even if it costs a buck or some time. Don’t always insist on a financial payoff or even acknowledgement or appreciation.”
  • sonika wrote: “The minute you realize that yours is not the only plot that is going on around you, it truly changes your outlook. I’m oddly much more ok with doing things that others might perceive negatively (such as distancing myself from unhealthy relationships) because I’d rather be “that bitch” in someone else’s plot than make my own more difficult.”
  • Turkey Glue wrote: “I’ve learned to ask questions about things I don’t understand.”
  • talldean quoted the Buddha: “Anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” talldean also shared this nugget: ” Lucky people aren’t as locked into a goal, so if something great happens to them, they accept it; it’s luck. Unlucky people pass by the great things to get to a more specific set of goals, but don’t always get where they wanted to go.”
  • Athanassiel wrote about the sunk-cost fallacy: “The falseness of continuing to do something which it becomes clear you should stop doing, simply because you have already invested a lot in it…Sometimes you really just have to cut your losses and walk away.”
  • Jandoe wrote: “I learned that staying in relationships out of a sense of obligation or pity was not a good reason.”
  • sio42 wrote: “Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and what you need, especially if it’s help.”
  • GorgeousPorridge wrote: “Status and money might make some people happy, but not everybody. If you’re not one of those people, it can be hard to live in a society where you are judged by your wealth or job title. But in the end, if you decide those things don’t matter all that much to you (and sometimes it’s hard to really conclude that they don’t), you’re wasting the only life you’ve got in order to fit in, and ultimately it’s a pointless sacrifice.”
  • Autumn wrote: “If someone is having a horrible go at life, you can’t swoop in and “save” them.”

That’s nearly 2000 words of great advice. In these responses are a lot of the themes we’ll cover at More Than Money in 2014.

What about you? What things were you wrong about? What have you learned during your sojourn here on earth that’s caused you to change how you think and act? What lessons can you add to this list?


  1. I quit a job about six years ago, because I was afraid to fail.

    I have learned that is okay to fail and that I do not have to be perfect. I don’t want to fail, and I will do all that I can to prevent it, but I will no longer sit in fear of it.

    I’ve also learned to accept that I’m awkward. Giving myself permission to be weird has given me more freedom and so I am less of an introvert.

  2. Much like “Ruthless Bunny” in your article, I used to think that being sarcastic, witty, and brusque would make me seem smart and better than everyone else. Well, actually it does, but I learned that no one wants to be around someone who thinks and acts like they are better than everyone else. I have learned that a smile even when I don’t feel it, a kind word, and interest in other people’s lives goes a long way and makes life more joyful.

  3. The “you cant swoop in and save people” comment really rings true to me. Overall though, the one thing I have learned above anything else is that how much power I have over my own life. People who always seem to have “bad luck” usually have fundamental problems in their life that cause the “bad luck”. Not that bad luck doesnt happen, it just doesnt happen over and over and over and over again.

  4. There are some great nuggets of wisdom!

    Personally, the first one (by ‘Ruthless Bunny’) really rang true with me. I’ve always seemed to have this sarcasm about me that tends to rub people the wrong way. I’ve been told “you’re a little cocky” on more than one occasion in the past. Like Emily above, I’ve finally come to the realization that no one wants to socialize with someone like that. It’s time for a change.

    I also just had a conversation (argument? :-)) with my wife recently about my desire to always try and help fix things. She put me in my place when she said, “sometimes I just want you to listen and not help”. I think now our conversations will be much more therapeutic and not so “there’s something wrong with you, here’s how to fix it”.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. I’m going to be 60 this year; the list of things I’ve been wrong about is very, very long.

    The biggest one, though, has so much impact on all the things: Thinking that life is something that happens. The inherent passivity and fatalism of this belief dooms one to rationalize poor performance, reject responsibility, dismiss opportunities, and lower overall expectations. Talk about a dream zapper!

  6. People very often don’t feel the same way about you as you do about them. I always sort of assumed that if I didn’t like someone the feeling would be naturally mutual. I could never understand why he/she would keep talking/bugging/annoying me. On the flip side, (especially as a teenager) it was also difficult to understand when I was really attracted to someone and they didn’t feel the same way about me.

    Many things became clear to me when I read and understood this. …I think it was buried in a Dostoyevsky book somewhere.

  7. Wow- some of those are very inspiring and relateable. Others are actually a bit painful when used for self examination.

    I have certainly grown.

    I definately have growing to do.

  8. I learned that one of the keys of happiness and contentment is to be more vulnerable.

    This is a skill I’ve had to learn over the years and at 31 I feel like I’m just starting to understand what it means. It’s more than being honest – it’s sharing pieces of yourself that you’re embarrassed and ashamed to talk about. But you’d be amazed at the things people will share with you when you’ve bared your soul. It’s incredible.

    However, as a male in the construction management profession lets just say I’m not exactly encouraged to express vulnerability around the workplace.

  9. I have learned that sticking with things that you really don’t want to because it is the “right thing to do” benefits no one. A good friend of mine from Texas once told me: life’s too short to dance with ugly women. That bit of advice has rung true in so many instances in life that have nothing to do with dancing or women.

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