Wisdom Alone is Worthless

One day, an ambitious young man went to visit a wise old sage. After a decade of studying the sage’s writings, the young man had begun to struggle to understand the more advanced teachings.

“I can no longer make sense of your wisdom,” the young man complained.

The sage exhaled deeply.

“Go fetch a cup,” he said.

When the young man returned with the cup, the sage asked him to fill it with water. As the water reached the brim of the cup, the young man started to slow the pour.

“Keep pouring,” the sage ordered.

The young man continued to pour until the cup was filled to its very top.

“Why did you stop? Keep filling the cup!” the sage demanded.

“It will overflow,” the young man attempted to explain.

“Yet you overflow your mind,” the sage whispered beneath his breath.

“What?” the young man asked.

“Take a fast,” the sage said quietly.

“A fast? Yes, of course! Perhaps food has become too much of a distraction,” the young man replied.

“A fast from wisdom!” the sage commanded. “Let your soul digest. Take the wisdom you’ve consumed and use it. You greedily reach for more of what you already have!”

“Did you know,” the sage went on, “that the best students of wisdom choose to end their study after reading my first book? My worst students keep reading, and they’re punished with the same ideas, again and again, coated in ever more layers of needless complexity.”

There’s a difference between preparing to live and living, between studying ideas on how to live within the world and exploring the world for itself.

Why let the wisdom you’ve absorbed — through all of those self-help books and poems, blogs and videos, seminars and talks, life experiences and conversations — collect dust in your mind? Use it! Apply it! Live it! Practice! Experiment!

Student @ Brown U. Author of NYTimes Bestseller ‘This is Me: Clickbait in My Bio.’