No offense to my dad, but I don’t remember getting a whole lot of advice as a kid. And considering how many of the former responsibilities of the family are getting pushed off onto society or dropped all together, this was probably a good thing. Today, the onus to learn life lessons falls almost entirely on the individual.

On my bookshelf, I have Life books. Books that were formative or influential and had implications outside their immediate reading. When I don’t feel like reading something new, I pick one of them up and flip through it. There’s this book called The Harder They Fall, which for about 300 pages is entirely about some boxing match, but it’s on that shelf because the last page has this wonderful paragraph about thinking we can “deal with filth without becoming the thing we touch.” I also have a delicious tag that I try to keep important articles in. Ones that make me think “what an asshole” or “keep that in mind” or “you should be so lucky to ever become that person.” The people who wrote them probably had no idea that their topic could be interpreted in such a way, which is the whole point.

The problem with a lot of advice is that it’s a good part projection of the other person, and not about you. What I like to do is search out things that speak to me, that I can tweak into becoming some sort of lesson rather than an explicit instruction from someone else. Chances are you’re going to wake up one day and find yourself in a situation you don’t know how to deal with. But if you’ve properly prepared yourself, you should have the tools on hand to work something out.

What I’m saying is that there is a critical distinction between the crap you read about box office economics, or tech acquisitions or random chatter about the future of the media and what has real implications for your actual life. One is like the clacking chatter on the floor of the stock exchange and the other, a private conversation in a lush, quiet office. One matters, and the other is distracting, vicarious bullshit that would so instantly go mute if someone told you that you were dying or had a few million dollars in a bank account.

So which one should you spend the most time organizing or collecting? Which one are you going to turn to if things go to shit? Or, finally, who is more respected, a master of wisdom or information?

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.