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Shifting from Smart to Wise

While the world is simultaneously giving a name to pandemic fatigue and gently opening the door to life post-pandemic, I am noticing the smart one who lives in me ramp up, and calling on the wise one who lives in me to help navigate.

I’ll tell you what I mean.

Occasionally, I find myself having the thought:


That’s the smart one checking her master list and wondering if we’re behind.

Like many of the over-achievers I know, I imagined that this time at home would somehow turn into a productive study hall, and I would:

  • Build better shelving for our linen closet and organize the piles of sheets

  • Plant a robust victory garden

  • Restring and relearn my childhood guitar

  • Finally sort out how to transfer videos from our 18-year-old camcorder into digital files…

The smart girl in me made that list.  The smart girl who always knows there is a ton to do, tracks it on spreadsheets, and won’t let a ball drop.

The girl who won every book reading contest in elementary school, who got good grades (and sweated it out when she didn’t), who took extra certifications and additional coursework, volunteered for the all the committees at work, who was always ready with backup slides and more evidence and citations, just in case she was asked a very particular question.

That part of me roared to life in March 2020, replenishing our pantry, reorganizing rooms in the house to support four people working and schooling from home, scenario planning, ensuring our survival through anticipation.

Each of us has a smart one, the internal voice who makes sure we are prepared for work, school, and home life…

The smart one does the research, does the homework, compares notes, explores every possible option with detailed pro and con lists…

The smart one is monitoring our pace, our progress, our competition, to make sure we’re on track and not behind – definitely not behind…

That voice is revved up and ready, and exhausting.

Thankfully, work with my coach Maura years ago led me to discover and strengthen the counter-voice I have within – the wise one.

For me, the wise one is calming, strong, and certain.

She is quieter and way more powerful than the smart one.

She just knows.

The wise one understands that the answer is not on the internet or on a to-do list.

She says:

Nayla…pause. Ground yourself in right now. Listen to yourself. You know what to do.

Right now, in this Spring of 2021, the wise one is saying:

You got through the year. That list isn’t important. Sit outside and enjoy the sun. Your friends are important, time with the kids matters, take better care of yourself. Do work that lights you up. Read for pleasure. Do what feels good. You're doing great.

I truly believe each of us has at least both of these voices in our minds, as well as the opportunity to shift and regulate the balance between the two.

I’m not about smothering the smart one, in me or anyone else. That voice deserves some credit… it got me through a lot of graduate school, helped me get promoted when I wanted to, helps me do the sometimes tedious work of financial planning and other tasks that are part of adulting.

The smart one just isn’t the suitable voice all the time.

There are times – parenting and family decisions, big work choices, and I’m learning – self-care – when the wise one is the voice I want to heed.

The wise one is guiding me with courage and discernment and helping me know the difference between what I really want and need, and what’s a distraction.

I see this with my clients every week.

I can tell the smart one is calling me first, because my clients are spinning in shoulds and comparisons, chronically unsatisfied, restless and trusting no one, not even themselves.

When we can put the smart one in a time-out, and invite the wise voice in, there’s a calming, a settling, and usually, a clear path forward.

There are two questions I ask myself and explore with my clients to sort out the shift from smart to wise.


I have a huge appetite for information, relationships, experiences. I know this about myself through how I orient myself in the world (and through every personality assessment ever taken). Learning, experimentation and new experiences are core to my identity. A lot of things look delicious to me, so it can be hard to say no.

In the hands of the smart one, that appetite is overwhelming, never satisfied.

It drives me to overworking, overcommitting, and the chronic sense of being behind. I feel that angst in my chest, it keeps me up at night, and I’m barely aware of what I could be enjoying.

When I turn the appetite to the attention of the wise one, I take things on from a place of curiosity and interest. Experiences are truly delicious…

I’m not reading a book, or agreeing to a partnership or piece of work because I worry I’ll fall behind if I don’t….

I really want what I’m after.

Another way to explore this question is: do I feel energized or exhausted?

The smart one wears us out, following us with a metaphorical clipboard, anxiously marking things off a list, and adding new things to it. When we stop even for a brief moment, we’re drained by what we’ve done (even when we do a great job) and depleted by thinking about what’s ahead.

When we’re letting the wise one guide us, my experience is that we’re accessing a source of energy – we can keep going, even if our minds and bodies are feeling the work, we don’t need to collapse on the couch halfway through. We have the stamina to persist.


This is sometimes a painful question to ask myself.

It forces me to acknowledge just how much the parts of me that still want to do ‘well’ in the world can govern my choices.

The smart one often gets the credit, and honestly, she’s become dependent on it. It’s a sort of twisted fuel to keep going… If I keep going this hard, I’ll get the grades, I’ll get the recognition, I’ll get the next project, and I won’t be behind.

The wise one isn’t tuned in to public validation or admiration. No parental, teacher, managerial or organizational accolades count. The wise one doesn't worry about reunions and class notes in the alumni magazine. It simply doesn’t matter to her.

Another way I might ask myself this question is: if absolutely no one but me knew I was doing this thing – if it would never be on my social media or my CV, and it would never come up in a conversation with someone I respected – would I do it anyway?

I’m honestly not judging myself, or any of us for seeking approval or admiration; the world is designed to keep that cycle going and all of us participate in and benefit from it in some way, at some point.

What I’m offering is the chance to notice, decision by decision, move by move, which voice is best suited to guide you through: the smart one or the wise one, and an invitation to shift to listening to the voice that serves you best right now.


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