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Why real-world experience trumps -- everything

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY We live in an era of nearly unlimited access to information, and to each other. But information isn't the same thing as wisdom, just as connections aren't the same as relationships and pleasure isn't the same as happiness.

Some things simply must be experienced directly to achieve professional growth and personal fulfillment. There are plenty of examples in every aspect of life.

If you've ever grown or eaten heirloom tomatoes, you know how much more flavorful they are than the mass-produced variety. The same is true of baked goods, beer, and wine.

Custom tailoring is far superior to off-the-rack clothing, even at Nordstrom (JWN).

A satellite music channel will never match your personal music library. Pandora's pretty good, but still can't quite discern your tastes.

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You can't learn a game by watching it on TV or by playing on a computer as effectively as you can by playing the real thing. You certainly won't get the same emotional charge.

And there's a very good reason why we all customize our cars and computers with colors and features.

Whether it's flavor, fit, fun, form, or function, mass-produced isn't the same as handcrafted, one size never fits all, and virtual isn't the same as real-life. The specifics may be a bit different for each type of experience, but they simply don't produce the same connection to our senses, emotions, or learning centers of the brain. 

The same thing can be said of information and wisdom. They're not the same thing. Indeed, you can gain a great deal of knowledge from books and school. But certain lessons can only be learned one-on-one, through direct experience, or they won't sink in.

The further you get in life and your career, the more diminishing the returns from mass-produced or virtual sources of knowledge. The more you'll need direct, hands-on experience to achieve professional growth and personal happiness.

Even the occasional epiphany you might get from a book or a blog is probably because a story so resonated with you personally, so related to your direct experience or situation, that it affected you emotionally and, therefore, lodged itself deep within you.

The distinction is more important today than ever before. We live in a world that offers nearly unlimited access to information and unprecedented opportunities to connect with each other.

We can download books, songs, games, and movies in minutes. We have a world of videos, news, and commentary at our fingertips. We can see what's going on in the lives of our friends and family wherever they are. And we can communicate with each other in real time, anytime.

Therein lies a profoundly deep and insidious trap. Our time on this planet obviously isn't unlimited. We have only so many hours and days to live. And it's easy to confuse information with wisdom, connections with relationships, and pleasure with happiness.

If you want to grow and prosper, remember that big change requires heavy lifting. You get out what you put in. If it's easy, the benefits will likewise be minimal. Wisdom comes from direct, hands-on, real-life experience. So do leadership and management skills. Personal happiness and fulfillment, too.

Image courtesy of Flickr user NEXT Berlin

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