🦊 Knowledge Instructs, Wisdom Encourages
#84 — If we find the courage to act, wisdom waits for us on the other side.
I found myself in familiar territory this week: I sent someone an email and immediately started worrying about their reaction to it. Was I too direct? Are they annoyed with me now? Have they even opened the email yet?
I get a bit annoyed when I catch myself in these cycles. I know it’s a common struggle—I’m not alone in my vulnerability to worry traps. The thing is, a couple of years ago I thought I found a solid solution to worrying. I read a book called The Courage to be Disliked, which shares the powerful ideas of Adlerian psychology. Adler’s idea of “separation of tasks,” in particular, really struck me. It helped me understand that it’s not my job to determine whether or not someone likes me. That’s their job. I can do my best with positive intentions, but the rest is out of my control.
The book totally shifted my outlook on work, and on my relationships. I was so moved by its ideas that I published an essay about it, Altering Your Reality. The essay made the rounds and resonated well with readers. I felt cautiously confident that I had gained a solid handle on the problem of worrying.
And yet, here we are. The worrying continues. Except now, the worry cycle comes with an added annoyance: It feels like a problem that should be behind me. I think to myself, Aren’t we over this? Didn’t we already figure this out?
I’ve come to realize: Knowing is not enough. Knowing the solution to a problem doesn’t save me from facing it. I still have to act on the knowledge.
In the case of worrying, the action I aim for is to notice feelings and emotions, look at them objectively, and let them pass. (In that sense, the difficult action is actually inaction.) Easier learned than done!
I worry because I care. And I like that I care. Since I plan to continue caring, it makes sense that I’ll always worry a little. No matter how many times I handle these kinds of feelings, they will keep coming.
The good news is that it gets easier. My knowledge and understanding of the issue has remained largely the same, but something else has grown within me, making it easier to act. I can sense my own growth month after month, year after year. The incidents continue, but the willpower needed to notice, pause and reframe has reduced.
There is a growth that comes beyond knowledge: Wisdom.
Knowledge is absorbed in an instant, but wisdom grows infinitely over a lifetime. I like how Zohar Atkins’ contrasts the two:
There is no end to wisdom, since there is always a new situation to learn from. But theoretically there is an end to knowledge, at least knowledge of the whole. One can theoretically know it all but one cannot be all wise, because life bewilders knowledge.
Knowledge instructs us, then stands aside and waits for us to act. If we summon the courage to act, we find wisdom waiting for us on the other side. Through its embrace, we embody its learnings.
Wisdom reminds us that we did it once before, and we can do it again.
I’m not sure I’ll ever stop worrying about what others think. But every incident is an opportunity to grow.
Maybe I’ll spend the rest of my life slowly growing the wisdom to let go.
Maybe that’s the point.
Maybe we’re meant to spend our days practicing letting go, so that when we reach our end, we’ll be ready.
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I’ve reached a major milestone with my book: I’m done with developmental revisions! (By that I mean the structural rewrites and major changes to the stories.) I’m now onto the line editing (polishing at the sentence-level) phase. I’m excited and relieved! The last big piece of the structural puzzle was the book’s Prologue, which I’ve written as a standalone fable which also sets the stage for the others. It was tricky to write, and I went through a lot of heavy revisions on it. There are no guarantees in creative work, but I will rest easy knowing I did my best to get it right. With that pinned down, the ground under the book finally feels stable.
The shift in my creative mode with the book has opened up some mental breathing room, and led to a renewed flow of ideas. You may have noticed that I’ve returned to a weekly cadence with this newsletter. I’m having fun riding this creative wave, and I hope you’re enjoying the fruits of its renewed energy. I’ve just republished two recent essays onto my blog:
Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time — Sometimes we feel exhausted after just ten minutes of a task. Other times, we’re immersed for hours before we even check the time. Time can be a terrible manager. Instead of planning our lives by the hour, we must learn to notice and manage our energy.
Showing Up — We talk ourselves out of creating, because we think it's too intimidating. But if we ask ourselves to take just one step, the mountain becomes manageable. A small step becomes a giant leap.
Although publishing weekly is a lot of work, it also lowers the pressure on each issue. It gives me a bit more freedom to try an idea every week without having too much time to overthink it. (I still struggle to find the right balance, but longer buildups definitely exacerbate the problem.) I’m glad I gave the book the bandwidth it needed, but I’m enjoying my return to a weekly cadence.
Today’s newsletter is a good example of me taking a rough idea and doing my best to just “get it out there.” I’ve had a draft note titled “Wisdom vs Knowledge” for longer than I can remember, and I’m really glad I found a way to share it today. It may be just the opening line in my conversation around the topic, but I have to start somewhere.
Progress trumps perfection.
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