I've always thought of myself as a pretty smart guy, in a "technically proficient, know what I need to know" kind of way. Throughout my professional career I was the "subject-matter expert" on every aspect of knowledge required to perform my occupation; I was the "go-to" guy for my co-workers when they had a job-related question or problem. Being "smart" in this regard served me very well during my career and enabled me to advance and to garner the respect of my associates. And of course staying "smart" required constant growth to stay current so my education was continually on-going. But now I think maybe I'm not so smart, after all.
When I retired a few years ago, all of the "essential" knowledge that I had accumulated and that made me so "smart" in my professional life became totally irrelevant to me, unnecessary to my day to day living. Oh, I'm competent in most aspects of normal life - I'm reasonably well informed of current events and I can carry on a more or less intelligent conversation on a wide range of topics, but it's becoming painfully obvious that there are a whole host of things of which I am totally ignorant. This sad fact is made painfully obvious to me every day when I sit down to do the NY Times crossword puzzle.
These puzzles are marvelous, ingenious creations that require a broad range of knowledge on topics ranging from "The Simpsons" to Greek literature to quantum physics to solve - well, that or a lot of crosses and lucky guesses. So every day I come face to face with my ignorance and have to find a way to overcome it if I am to solve the puzzle. And the fact is, just about every day I am able to do that and in the process I learn something - some days I learn a whole lot!
So now I know things like the river that runs through Florence is the Arno; Painter Chagall's first name is Marc; a Yenta is a busybody; some herons fly with their necks retracted; the New Jersy hockey team is the Devils; Teslas are magnetic induction units and Euler is an eponymic mathematician; and a Kraken is a monster of Norse myth. And those are from puzzles early in the week; they get progressively more difficult each day!
I understand that I don't really need to know any of these things and I recognize that knowing them does not make me "smart" but it makes me feel better that each day I learn something that I did not know before (or maybe had long since forgotten); if nothing else it reminds me of how much I do NOT know which can be a pretty humbling experience - and humility is something which I definitely DO need to know.
Like I said, everything I never needed to know, I learned doing crossword puzzles but I've also learned a little about myself in the process and I think knowing one's own self is pretty important. And there's that humility thing...