In the old times there were only rowboats to cross the Straits of the Bosphorus in Turkey, not the large boats of today. If you wanted to go from one side to the other, you hired a boat with five or ten other people and paid the boatman to take you across. One day, a professor of geography stepped into one of these boats to cross the straits. Just as the boat set out, the wind started to kick up, and the boat began to sway from side to side.
As they made their way across the Straits, the professor asked the boatman, “Do you know geography?” The boat man replied that he did not. The professor said, “You’ve wasted a third of your life. A third of your life is gone.”
A few moments later, the professor asked, “Do you know any mathematics?” and the boatman replied that he did not. Again, the professor said, “A third of your life is gone; you’ve wasted all of this time.”
Then he asked him, “Do you know history? No? A third of your life is gone; you have wasted so much time,” and continued berating the boatman like this.
Meanwhile, the wind had become quite ferocious and the boat began to rock back and forth wildly. The boatman asked the professor, “Do you know how to swim?” The professor replied that he did not. The boatman said to him, “Then all of your life is gone.”
From What about My Wood! 101 Sufi Stories, by Es-Seyyid Es-Shaykh Taner Ansari, NY 2005 (ISBN: 0977031851-0)