“A wise woman wishes to be no one's enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone's victim.”
— Maya Angelou
When you hear the word “sage,” you might think first about the fragrant herb that’s a traditional part of the seasoning we enjoy for Thanksgiving dinners. Sage has one of the longest histories of any culinary or medicinal herb, and was used thousands of years ago in ancient Egyptian kitchens!
But today, I want to focus on the other definition. The word sage also means “a profoundly wise person,” referring to someone who is wise through reflection and experience. When you give someone “sage advice,” you give them sound advice gained through your life reflections and experiences. Wisdom is something that we often confuse with intelligence. Both have to do with deep knowledge, but while intelligence frequently stems from study, wisdom can flow from sources other than books. In fact, it often does.
Having a sage within you isn’t defined by book learning. You don’t need any academic degrees to be a sage. And although we often associate wisdom with decades of life experience, having a sage within you isn’t limited by age. You don’t have to be old to be a sage.
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you'll be criticized anyway.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
In fact, one of the wisest women alive is remarkably young: Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person to win a Nobel Prize. In 2009—when she was just 11 years old—Malala wrote a blog post about living as a girl under Taliban occupation. She wrote passionately about her own desire to go to school, and how important she felt it was for all young girls in Pakistan to have the chance to learn. In 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Yousafzai as she rode home on a bus after taking an academic exam. She was punished for wanting girls to have access to education, targeted for her beliefs. Malala was only a teenager, but she listened to the sage within herself and spoke with courage about the importance of education for girls.
Not all sages are battling for equal rights or embroiled in politics. Think of Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote so eloquently about her emotional explorations in her book Eat, Pray, Love. Her willingness to share her personal journey inspired untold numbers of readers to make positive changes in their own lives. Think of Nellie Bly whose writings were instrumental in mental health. Think of Elizabeth Blackwell, first female Doctor who forced us to think differently about who could be a Dr., and renowned writer who forced us to think the Holocaust.
All are sages in their own ways.
Sages possess wisdom in many different areas and express that wisdom in many different ways. But they are all brave, and they are all driven, and they are all eager to continue learning. About themselves and about their worlds.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something. Unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.”
— J.K Rowling
So, how can you get in touch with the sage within yourself? How can you tap into her energy and use it to talk about the things that are important to YOU? Where is YOUR platform? And when you find it, will you USE it? Accessing this wisdom and bravery within yourself has nothing to do with status or money or degrees or job titles or power. It is about self-reflection, dedication, and a thirst for knowledge.
And sometimes that's what it takes: An overwhelming new role or drastic life change that forces you to look inward. Sometimes the sage only emerges when you need her wisdom most.
But sometimes you can summon your sage just by focusing on your goals, your aspirations, the difference you want to make in the world. Or even the difference you want to make within yourself. As this new year unfolds, I hope you'll find a way to tap your inner sage and revel in her unparalleled wisdom.
“What you do makes a difference. And you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make."
– Jane Goodall