The Traps of Being a Knowledge Chaser

I admit it.  I read.  A lot.  About all kinds of stuff.

I scan dozens of blogs, I’m in the middle of four books, and I’m daily tracking what’s hot on several web aggregators like digg and reddit.  I am the 21st century version of a hunter/gatherer— except that instead of spending my day going from tree to tree picking fruit to feed my stomach, I’m going from web page to web page to feed my mind.

There’s a good side to all this information gathering.  I rightfully remind myself that gathering in all this information, sifting through it, and reconstructing it is helpful, both to me and to others in my sphere of influence.  Knowledge is a good thing.

But there can be a down side to constantly hunting for more information, more knowledge, more insight.  Slowly, subtly, the life of a knowledge chaser can become a trap.  Are you a knowledge chaser like me?  Then be sure that you’re aware of these knowledge chaser traps:

The first trap to consider is that chasing knowledge focuses my time and energy on accumulating more and more information instead of dealing with the information I already have.  Two fundamental facts of reality come into play here. The first is that I only have 24 hours in a day.  Every hour I spend chasing knowledge robs me of an hour I could have used elsewhere.   The second fact is that knowledge acquired does me no good unless I act on it, and acting on it takes time and effort.

Which brings me to the second trap: knowledge chasing inclines me to define success in terms of quantity of things learned rather than quality of a soul changed. We all realize that mere accumulation of knowledge can’t be an end unto itself, but it’s easy to lose sight of that truth.  Always has been.  I’m reminded of what the Apostle James wrote two thousand years ago: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

Speaking of self-deception, here’s the next trap to consider: knowledge chasing can be the excuse I use to avoid the hard choices. It’s easier to read a book on how to be a good husband than to have that hard conversation with your wife.  It’s easier to check the latest blog on personal finance than to cut up my credit card.  And it’s certainly a lot easier to bookmark that article on nine ways to develop killer abs than to actually get up early and sweat.  But I can avoid all those hard choices if I convince myself that I’m learning something new and valuable.  Ouch.

Lastly, I think constantly chasing knowledge can encourage a “lottery” mentality of personal growth. The trap plays out like this: if I just read this new book on self-discipline or listen to this author’s lecture on joyful living maybe I’ll get lucky and find that simple key that will solve all my troubles.  If I keep learning surely I’ll one day stumble onto that one special truth that will revolutionize my life.  It’s a variation on the lottery mentality— instead of spending all our money on lottery tickets hoping for that one big payoff, we spend all our time on learning hoping for that one big payoff.  Of course, real growth, financial or personal, doesn’t come from a lottery, but from investing what we already have (or know) coupled with disciplined daily work.

Do you want a successful life?  Don’t fall into the trap of simply chasing knowledge, but instead strive for a consistent lifestyle of applying what you learn.  Don’t know how to start?  Then pick something you’ve learned that demands change in your life, and focus on it and it alone this week.  Think about how that knowledge needs to play out in your life, draw up some action points, talk to someone about it, and follow through.  Don’t move to the next project or the next book until you can honestly say to yourself that you have mastered the life change that you set yourself to.   Remember, the person who gazes with satisfaction from the mountain-top is not the one who read everything there was to know about mountains, but the one who set himself on the path & climbed, slowly, deliberately, one step at a time until he finally reached the summit.

4 comments to The Traps of Being a Knowledge Chaser

  • [...] Paul once remarked that the Athenians loved to chase knowledge. But in our age of endless information, can we fall prey to the same trap? John gives us some practical advice on the subject in his post The Traps of Being a Knowledge Chaser. [...]

  • [...] though? Isn’t that a bit steep and deep? John contrasts that kind of depth with being a knowledge chaser—which tells me it’s time to buckle down for some more in-depth work [...]

  • Wonderfully focused insight. Great job, John.

  • Right on.

    I’m working on a short book about applying Scripture rather than just learning. Your post here is exactly what I’m talking about. In some ways, I think Christian culture in particular tends to cultivate a knowledge-chasing rather than knowledge-applying approach to life.

    Your last paragraph here is the basis for most of what I’m writing about. It’s encouraging to see like-mindedness. Thank you.

    - Marshall Jones, Jr.

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