Everyone is in constant pursuit of knowledge. We attend college and graduate school to accumulate information. Each morning (and many times throughout the day) we scroll obsessively through news headlines and articles about how to tweak performance in order to achieve greater success. Knowledge is a commodity we can never seem to get enough of.
More important than accumulating knowledge, however, is what we do with it. Holding facts in our minds isn’t worth much unless we can translate those pieces of information into wisdom. There’s a quote I love that summarizes this difference: “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
Evolving Toward Wisdom
Most of us spend our early lives seeking knowledge in the service of specific achievements. We memorize facts to earn good grades, and then we learn skills to land a particular job. Whether we realize it or not, we treat knowledge as a means to an end rather than as a path to wisdom.
As a young student in India, I fixated on achievements. I wanted to be on the student leadership council in high school, and I would accept nothing less than being voted into one of the head spots. All my aims focused on that goal. Then came college, and I obsessed over getting into my top-choice school. When it came time to enter the workforce, I was ravenous for knowledge about my industry and my company so that I could rise through the ranks.
If we pause long enough to contemplate these patterns, we realize this is a maniacal way to live. Existing in a state of constant aspiration blinds us to the value of the lessons we’re supposed to learn along the way. We judge our success according to our job titles, our incomes, and the size of our homes.
But what do we gain spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally? Without wisdom, we fail to appreciate the rich truths of our lives. In recent years, I’ve shifted away from voracious knowledge consumption toward contemplation. I used to consume business books, podcasts, and lectures constantly, always seeking the next clue toward higher success.
Now I find myself asking how I can apply all that knowledge to building a more meaningful career each day. I don’t wake up aspiring to “what’s next” but rather to bringing wisdom and understanding to every task directly in front of me.
Once I began focusing on using the wisdom I’d gained day to day, rather than to strategize toward the next step on the ladder of success, I became far more effective in my work. When I meet with someone, I think about how I can make our time productive and valuable for both of us. That means considering their needs (and mine) and bringing the wisdom I’ve gained to bear on our mutual problems. By being thoughtful and empathetic in every interaction, I make a far greater impact than I would if I were constantly distracted by the need to consume and hit external milestones.
Wisdom in Practice
Prioritizing wisdom over knowledge accumulation doesn’t mean you stop achieving. If anything, you hold yourself to a higher standard because you’re clearer on your values and what it takes to build a body of work that reflects them.
Here’s how to cultivate a healthier balance between knowledge and wisdom in your work life:
1. Check in with your thoughts.
When life gets busy, it’s easy to avoid processing our experiences. At least once a day, sit quietly with your thoughts. Even if it’s just five minutes, taking note of what you’ve learned, what resonated, and what struck you as shallow or irrelevant can help you make better choices.
2. Distinguish the two.
Every situation calls for both knowledge and wisdom. The key is creating space for both. One way to do this is to think of knowledge as the practices, hobbies, and content that entertain and educate you. Wisdom is understanding how these things inform your broader experience.
Let’s say you’re trying to get better at managing money. The tactics you learn for budgeting and saving are knowledge. But wisdom helps you see your money’s role in what you’re able to do and enjoy in your life.
3. Encourage others to pursue their own wisdom.
When my staff comes to me for answers, I turn their questions around so that they can find the solutions themselves. This empowers them to make their own decisions and hones their intuitions for determining quality knowledge from information that doesn’t serve them.
Ultimately, wisdom is what we gain when we process the knowledge we’ve accumulated and determine which parts are true and applicable to our circumstances. In my experience, wisdom embodies a deeper sense of understanding about your life and your role in the world. To put it simply, knowledge comes from learning and wisdom comes from living.