The Benefit of Experience, Good or Bad
“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” -Will Rogers
This is one of my favourite quotes/guiding principles because it speaks to the cycle of learning, reflection and continuous improvement.
Experience, the requirement for all improvement, is not something to be skipped over. In fact, if you do skip over this step, you just may find yourself in the midst of something that was entirely preventable.
The Benefit of Experience
The quote suggests that experience is indeed a wise teacher and one whose lessons we would be well advised to abide by. The question becomes where is the best place or source of experience?
Well, let me share with you one my other favorite quote/guiding principles. “A smart man learns from his own experience, but a wise man learns from the experience of others”. There is no doubt that we are influenced by the experiences we have; the real learning does not come from the experiences themselves but rather from the beliefs we adopt around those experiences.
In other words, our lives are not shaped, guided or directed by our experiences, instead they are profoundly influenced by the beliefs we have regarding those experiences.
I wrote recently of two women I encountered several years ago when I was a patient in a local hospital.
Both ladies had their left lungs removed on the same day and were recuperating on the same floor where I was situated.
They were close in age, were both suffering from the same disease, had been heavy smokers and, from what they shared with me, had very similar backgrounds.
And that’s where the similarities ended.
Their beliefs around their surgery and hospital stay could not have been more different.
The one lady was a joy to behold. She was so deeply appreciative that she had been given a new lease on life; one that as a life-long smoker she felt she didn’t deserve.
She spoke of her enormous gratitude to our healthcare system that had provided her a chance at a second life and talked glowingly of the nurses and other healthcare workers, whom she felt were playing such a critical role in her speedy recovery.
She had nothing but good things to say about her entire experience and even jokingly commented that the awful hospital food was helping her to recover faster so that she could go home and have a decent meal.
She also observed that the extreme pain she felt at times was simply her body’s way of telling her that she was getting better each day. Whenever I was alone in the patient’s lounge I could hear her approaching as she was constantly humming happily to herself.
You Shape Your Experience
By contrast, the only words to leave the other ladies mouth were critical ones. She had nothing good to say about the surgeon who she described as a quack, the nurses – all idiots – the food – unfit for human consumption – and she complained constantly of the pain she was in which, I did not for a moment doubt, was real.
At one point she even commented that had she known how bad this experience was going to be, she would have chosen to die instead.
Two women with two very similar backgrounds sharing seemingly identical experiences, yet interpreting them in diametrically opposing ways.
Experience is not, as an old saying suggests, a teacher; it is that trigger to a belief. It is the belief we place on each experience that determines the strength of its teachings, and ultimately how it will shape our growth, knowledge and ability.
Experience itself has no meaning whatsoever. We place our own meaning on it by the beliefs or opinions we form of that experience.
This teaches us that there is great value in frequently evaluating our beliefs to determine whether they are moving us towards, or away from, where we want to be.
It is our beliefs that have led to the choices we have made and consequently, to the actions we have taken resulting in us being where we are right now.
Turn Experience Into Belief
Experience will not move us from where we are to where we want to be, beliefs will.
There is no question that experience is a valuable tool and a powerful teacher for without it we would be unable to form the beliefs that guide us.
But it is always what we believe to be true of the experience and not the truth of the experience itself that will determine how deeply it will impact us.
A great lesson to reflect on, don’t you think?
Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.