Information is Making Us Unhappy and Here's Why

too much career informationHave you ever started down a conversation with a friend or colleague, talking casually about something you recently read, and had that conversation turn into a heated debate that you felt woefully underprepared for? Last week, my husband and I were having a conversation. Quite frankly, I don’t remember what it was about and it doesn’t much matter. I shared something that I knew and that I figured he didn’t know because he hadn’t applied the knowledge. And he said, “Yeah, I know that. I read about it somewhere.” My immediate response was, “No you don’t know it. You just read about it.”

So, it got me thinking, what’s the difference between information and knowledge. Is there one? And if so, does it matter?

Well, yes, I believe there is a difference and that it matters immensely.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, I’ll define what I mean by knowledge and information. After simmering on this for a bit, I define the terms as follows:

Knowledge: Knowledge is a relationship that someone has developed with a set of skills, facts and information that results in their familiarity and practical understanding and application of those skills, facts and information. Knowledge implies an integration of those skills, facts and information into a person’s actions.

Information: Information is a fact or set of facts related to something or someone.

Notice how short the definition of information is compared to the definition of knowledge. OK, it’s possible I exaggerated the difference here to make a point. Even if did, most people would agree that information lacks something that knowledge has – namely, the familiarity, relationship and integration.

For example, I know intimately how to ride a bike. I have spent a large part of my adult life riding a bike, I have studied the mechanics of the pedal stroke and consciously trained my body to ride more efficiently. I can blather on about strategies for efficiency, comfort, speed, etc., and not run out of information. I have a relationship with what it takes to ride a bike.

On the other hand, I get information all the time about US politics. I start my morning listening to NPR and on the rare chance I’m in a car, that’s what is on the radio. I hear a lot about it. I know the facts of how it works and what’s happening currently. But I have no real relationship with it. I don’t actively engage with the information and certainly haven’t integrated that information into my actions. I have the information, but no real knowledge around the topic.

career information overload

OK, Leila, we get it – knowledge and information are different. But who cares?

Well, here’s the thing. We are in the information age, which means we are exposed to an inordinate amount of information without ever truly knowing all the information. We often make decisions and arguments based on information, confusing it with knowledge.

And this is problematic.

When we make decisions based on information, we are missing the relational piece of knowledge, and can end up taking some pretty off-base actions for ourselves that don’t align with our long term goals. Taking action based on information versus knowledge doesn’t feel good. It creates that uneasy feeling when you’re sort of sure, but not confident.

In a career setting, it looks like this:

You are in marketing. A friend or mentor told you that what you need to do to succeed in your career is to specialize in social media. Social media is the way of the future and every company and brand will need someone like you. You trust your friend and mentor, so you dig into understanding social media. You become an expert and keep up to date with the trends, and ultimately become the go-to in your company for social media marketing.

But you’re not happy. You’re not happy because you don’t enjoy social media. You actually find it to be quite worthless to the bottom line, you don’t feel like you are contributing to your company, and becoming an expert in social media was quite easy for you.

So, why aren’t you happy? You aren’t happy because you made a career decision based on information someone gave you – not any concept you had a relationship with. Had you taken the time to know how becoming an expert in social media affects your career, you probably would have seen those hazards coming before investing more time than necessary. You would have become familiar with the impact such an expertise would have on your career, and decided it was not the right path for you.

This example may seem facile, but a similar career path is actually quite common. Many people make career decisions based on what they have heard or been told without taking the time to develop a familiarity with what the long term career path will look like.

It’s why career coaching is so impactful and necessary in today’s world. Career coaches help their clients develop a relationship with a chosen career path. A skilled career coach helps their clients differentiate between a whim that is sparked by the latest information and a relationship borne out of knowledge. Career coaching requires an individual to get familiar with their desires in life – long term and short term – what they are willing to sacrifice to attain those desires and how to do it. A career coach asks for action based on knowledge, not information, and requires the client to go beyond simply being exposed to an idea and develop a relationship.

Have you done the work to develop a relationship with your career? If not, now is the time. Think of what the future holds for you and start to develop a relationship with that future career. If you find it’s dysfunctional, get back to the drawing board and create a new future that provides a more satisfying relationship.


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