I consider myself a lifelong learner. I've read thousands if not tens of thousands of books at this point, including at one point the entire thirty volume Encyclopædia Britannica set from cover to cover (don't judge me, I was a bored kid who grew up without a TV and that was before the Internet).
Know what I learned from all of that?
I Learned I Know Very Little
I learned that I know only an infinitesimally small amount compared to the vast stores of human knowledge. The more I know, the more I realize I don't know much of anything.
Look at the Wikipedias for example. At the time of this writing, the English Wikipedia alone has over 5,926,178 articles of any length, and the combined Wikipedias for all other languages greatly exceed the English Wikipedia in size, with more than 27 billion words in 40 million articles in 293 languages.
Twenty-seven BILLION words. If you read at an average adult speed of 300 words per minute (and for giggles let's assume you know and read 293 languages at the same level of proficiency), that'll only take you about 514 years to read if you read 8 hours a day, 365 days a year.
And that's just Wikipedia, and we're completely ignoring the fact that there is an average of 1.8 edits to it PER SECOND.
In layman's terms, that's a ton of information, more than any human can consume, much less understand.
Many “Facts” are Merely Opinions or Cultural Norms
On top of that, you can easily find contradictions for most “factual” information even inside encyclopedias, so you'll be hard-pressed to figure out what information is “correct,” if there is such a thing
If you have traveled or read much at all, you'll realize that what is perfectly normal and considered to be the “truth” in one culture is often regarded as abnormal and even weird in another. Most “truths” are not self-evident; even when they seem apparent to a large group of people or are written down in impressive “authoritative” books
In a study done on twelve middle school science textbooks, researchers logged an impressive 500 pages worth of errors, so even our best works are often riddled with errors. That's when people are TRYING to be factual and not intentionally misleading others in order to sell something or accomplish some other ulterior motive which unfortunately is far too common these days.
Some Things are Not Worth Arguing
It's useless to question everything though, so some “facts” we need to take at face value and move on. 1+1=2 is a good example. We could argue that point, but what practical purpose would it serve (beyond maybe entertaining you and pissing someone off)?
One lesson I've learned is that “good enough” is usually good enough. You could spend decades of your life trying to make something perfect or proving something is a fact beyond any shadow of doubt, but eventually, you have to say it's good enough and move on. Another is that it is often better to be HAPPY than it is to be RIGHT. If it's not worth arguing over or spending a lot of time on, move on down the road and save yourself some time and grief.
We Haven't Began to Scratch the Surface of all Knowledge
The biggest thing that I've learned is that no one person has even begun to scratch the surface of all knowledge. Did you know that Einstein reportedly didn't ever learn how to drive or swim?
Socrates, one of the most famous philosophers of all time and the teacher of Plato and Aristotle, once said, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”
“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” -Socrates
It is simply not possible for one person to know or be good at everything. To think otherwise is merely our ignorance and arrogance talking. That's partly why John Maxwell, often cited as one of the top leadership trainers in the country, wrote a book called “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions.”
When we finally understand that we know very little and stop being so arrogant as to believe that we know much, suddenly we are free to ask questions and can begin to learn. To those who begin to learn martial arts, for example, a black belt is often seen as the pinnacle of success. To the masters, they know a black belt is but the beginning of a lifelong journey toward mastery.
Here's a little video clip which might expand your mind a little. If this is what we can see so far, what can't we see yet, much less understand?
A Little of What I Did Learn
Obviously, I have learned some other things by reading all those books. If you were looking for some answers beyond “I don't know,” check out my list of personal and professional development book recommendations. I send out another book suggestion each month and share little tidbits that I've learned with subscribers.
Focus & Take Action
I also learned the importance of focus and getting started. While I love learning, if I want anything to come from that, I have to take action. There will always be more to learn; the key to success is making a choice and acting on what you already know.
I can acquire knowledge for the rest of my life, but if I never DO anything with it, it is useless.
“Knowledge without action, is like having no knowledge at all!” -Ted Nicholas
My challenge to you is to DO something with what you already know today. If you want to contribute what you've learned to this personal and professional development blog, click here to find out how to submit a guest post.
About the Author
Happily married with five kids, Smith owns a technology company, is the founder of this site, has served on the board of directors for multiple companies, and loves playing soccer, hiking, and mentoring.
1 Way to Promote Peace of Mind
I set an intent a few months ago. Live and let live. I held an intent to allow my wife to live
With comfort comes complacency, and with complacency comes problems
Have you ever gotten so comfortable with something that you stopped practicing the basics? What happened? My guess is that you ran
Advice for New Stepparents: 3 Tips for Stepmom and Stepdad
The other day, a friend of mine who was a new stepparent asked me, “What is the best advice you have for
1 Step to Leaving the Matrix
Notice humanity leaving the Matrix. Seriously. Observe it to gain a sense of knowing. You and I are evolving. Human beings are
How Easily Do People Fool You?
I developed one skill better than any after: running a business for 10 yearscircling the globe for 10 yearsengaging in serious mental
Book of The Month – The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
This month's personal development pick is “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life.” This is the intriguing life story of
Comfort is a Lie
I was in the gym on Saturday, and Jeremy, my trainer, told me to do dips. “Give me three sets of ten.
People Don’t Like it if You Challenge Their Mindsets
I wrote about using credit cards the other day and got a lot of negative feedback. People or experience had convinced many that Credit
The Answer Is by Alex Trebek: Book of The Month
This month's personal development book selection is “The Answer Is…:Reflections on my Life” by Alex Trebek. The host of Jeopardy! for over
Want to build trust and the respect of your peers? Do this!
Have you ever heard this one? “Ladies, if a guy says he is going to do something, he will. No need to
How to Reframe the News Media
My parents taught me growing up how following the news: kept me informedkept me current on important news itemsoffered me a trusted
Are You Prepared to Live Your Dreams?
You better be ready to sacrifice your lower nature to make room for a life of a higher nature. My wife and