The Know-it-All vs. The Learn-it-All: Which One Are You?

It was once remarked that there are two kinds of people in the world — those who divide people into two kinds and those who don’t.

Well, let me play the role of the one who does for a moment.

There are two kinds of people in the world — the Know-it-Alls and the Learn-it-Alls.

And you’ll inevitably bump into one of them during your life. Sadly enough, most of the time you’ll come across people from the first category.

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The Know-it-Alls

They are the ones who act as though they know everything, who dismiss the opinions, comments, or suggestions of others. They have an answer to every single question.

Even if they don’t know what they’re talking about they’ll make up an answer anyway. It just never occurs to them that they can be wrong.

These are difficult types of people. And I can tell that from my own experience, as I was one of them.

At 18 I started reading a few self-help books. Then I started going to seminars and conferences. I attended a few masterminds. Listened to some audiobooks. And then I read some more books.

Long story short, all of that transformed me into an arrogant young man who looked down on people and thought everyone dumber than him.

In social gatherings and one-to-one conversations I argued everyone’s point of view, thinking that there’s no better answer than mine.

I was so attached to my own convictions and beliefs. But sure enough, as the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said:

“Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truths than lies.”  — Friedrich Nietzsche

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That’s when I learned that if we only look to confirm our beliefs, we’ll never discover if we’re wrong.

As I see it, this is a very characteristic trait for men and women in their twenties. At that age, we’re so full of ourselves. We think we know so much when really, that’s just an illusion at best.

That’s probably why Plato said that, “Young men, when they first get the taste of philosophy in their mouths, argue for amusement, and are always contradicting and refuting… like puppy-dogs who delight to tear and pull at all who come near them.”

That describes it brilliantly.

Thankfully, I didn’t stop learning and I soon realized how little I knew. I started listening more and talking less. Eventually, I understood that if you’ve reached the point in life where you feel you’ve got all the answers, you better start asking some different questions.

If you’ve reached the point in life where you feel you’ve got all the answers, you better start asking some different questions.

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The Learn-it-Alls

That’s when I became a learn-it-all.

The learn-it-all knows that there’s no black or white answer to every life’s question. They realize that if a glass is full of water, they can pour more in only if they first pour more out.

There are often many ways from which you can see a problem, a decision, or a situation. But just because the other person doesn’t see it from the same perspective as you do, doesn’t mean that he is wrong and you are right. That just means that you both see it from a different perspective.

You’ve got to be open-minded to alternative ways of thinking, new ideas, concepts and points of view. Warren Buffett said it best: “When you find information that contradicts your existing beliefs, you’ve got a special obligation to look at it — and quickly.”

And here’s the catch:

I’m not saying that you should trust anyone who has a different point of view. There’s a huge difference between opinion and fact.

The know-it-alls almost always throw off comments and ideologies they’ve read about in an article on a blog, rumors from magazines, or some information they’ve gathered from books. In other words, they are book smarts.

They’re good at generalizing and theorizing different concepts and ideas. They’re good at telling you what others said, but you find out very quickly that there’s no substance in what they’re saying.

It’s because what they’ve learned from books isn’t backed up by personal life experience. They know what’s common sense, but they rarely make it common practice.

They’re good at following the rules and telling you what others say is the right way to behave, but they don’t actually do anything. They merely gather all this information for the sake of appearing smarter in other people’s eyes.

That’s why you rarely see them making any progress in life. They’re too full of themselves and lack the real life experience needed to succeed at the game of life.

Speaking of that, you probably went to some events where there’s an expert invited to speak on a specific topic — like TEDx talks, seminars and conferences etc.

Well, the know-it-all leaves those kinds of events saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've heard it all! Why did I even bother coming here?” To which one may ask, “Great, but are you doing-it-all?”

They are the ones who are good at talking, but horrible at doing.

I say all this as someone who is a deep lover of books. As someone who has an incredible thirst for knowledge. Given that, you might see me as someone who may be called a “book smart.”

But if there’s anything I’ve achieved in life, it’s only because of my willingness to put into action that accumulated knowledge. It’s by collecting bits and pieces of wisdom and coming up with my own philosophy of life, which can only come from real life experience.

It’s by being a student, not a follower, as my mentor Jim Rohn would say.

It comes from an understanding that there are always more questions than answers. And that the questions you ask are always more important than the answers you get.

There are always more questions than answers. Ultimately, the questions you ask are always more important than the answers you get.

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Perhaps, this is the biggest difference between know-it-alls and learn-it-alls.

The learn-it-alls have an insatiable appetite for learning. They have that remarkable virtue called curiosity. If they’re passionate about a specific topic or industry, they’ll go and learn everything about it.

But they don’t stop there.

They approach life the way a scientist would. They gather knowledge and ideas and then they test and experiment these ideas in their own life. They see what works and what doesn’t. And then they decide whether to tweak and adjust their approach, or quit and begin another experiment.

That’s a powerful way to live your life and if you want to set yourself apart from the crowd, I’d invite you to consider this philosophy.

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Eric Hoffer was right:

In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.

I hope that my life experience taught you that it’s not enough to learn a lot. Being eager to know more is good, but you’ve got to have the right attitude toward learning as well.

If right now you find yourself in a place where you think you know it all, think twice. Re-evaluate and see where your past choices brought you to your present condition.

Learn from my mistakes and never stop asking questions. Start listening more and let your results speak for themselves.

Finally, join the crowd of the learn-it-alls. Be like a sponge and soak up as much as you can while you’re here. I’m telling you: the rewards are remarkable!

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Daniel Cerescu

I'm Daniel Cerescu, and I'm the guy behind this blog. Even though most of the material on this website is free, I aim to make this free content better than anyone else’s paid stuff. My mission is to inspire and empower those who refuse to settle for anything less than an extraordinary life to live with passion, lead with purpose, and make their mark on the world.