Whether you have a desire to improve yourself or to improve the world, reading self-help books and taking classes can be a first step. But, the only way that you can accomplish your goals is if you take the concepts that you’ve learned and apply them to your thoughts, your words and your actions.
Danny is a sweet 20-year-old man who believes that he is very spiritual. More than anything he wants to have a positive effect on the world. He is unemployed, lives in his mother’s basement and focuses all of his energy on spiritual growth. He reads self-help books and takes every class that he can find. When I asked him how he applied the things that he had learned to his life, he replied: I’m still learning. When I asked about his interactions with other people he said: I don’t have much contact with anyone besides my mother. He had decided that socializing would have to wait because his studies took up all of his time. When I asked him how he knew if he had really learned anything if he hadn’t applied his lessons to life, he didn’t understand what I meant.
Alexis is a psychologist. She worked at a large clinic and was on call at a hospital one weekend a month. One of the things that she enjoyed most about her job was helping people become more aware of what behavior is beneficial for their life and what isn’t. Due to personnel cutbacks, her caseload had increased 25% but her hours had not. She was expected to do all of the consults and additional paperwork in the same amount of time. Like her co-workers Alexis began taking paperwork home with her just to try and keep up. Evaluations were about end results not about how you got them. Over the last few years her own health had begun to deteriorate. She had gained 30 pounds and developed diabetes. She knew that the stress from her job was literally killing her. Alexis had helped many patients through difficult situations, but it took her own health crisis to help her realize that she wasn’t taking her own advice.
Danny’s and Alexis’ stories appear very different but in reality are the same. Both of them have information, determination and drive and neither one is applying these traits to their own life.
Toward the end of our session I saw a light flash on in Danny’s eyes. Something that I’d said had connected with him. I sat quietly for a few moments to let him process and then suggested that he stop reading and taking classes for a while. Danny, I said, the real way to find out if what you’ve learned is part of you, is to take it out in the world. Talk to people about their interests, make friends, get a life outside of your home. When you have responsibilities to a job and to people, you’ll find out if you’re able to apply your studies to real life. Then you’ll be able to figure out if what you know is part of you and what you’ll want to work on.
When Alexis and I were talking, she gave me a list of reasons why she couldn’t quit her job, all of which made perfect sense. She liked the high salary, needed the health insurance and couldn’t desert her patients. I asked if there were a way to handle the added responsibility without it being so stressful. She said that she had tried meditation, counseling and talking to her boss, but still felt that she was sinking. I’m going to die if something doesn’t change, aren’t I? Yes, I said. I love my family and I’m not going to abandon them. I will figure this out. I believe her.
Having information doesn’t make you wise; it makes you informed. Wisdom is gained by the experience of applying what you believe to be true to daily life. That’s the challenge; applying what you know to be true to your thoughts words and actions.
Dead People Say: When you take your information into the world, you might find out that you missed something. You might learn aspects of your beliefs that you can only learn from human interaction. That’s ’s when information turns into knowledge.