Learning From Experience

Most people don’t learn from experience. There is a saying I have heard a few times and I don’t know who the originator of it is, but it goes something like this; “Bob has one year experience repeated 20 times.”   What is being said is Bob didn’t learn from his experience instead he did the same thing for twenty years. What I picked up was that  his work life was a habit. I think we all learn in some way to do this with our lives. We learn to make things in life a habit. We learn the days of the week, the months, the seasons, we go to school and learn the order of things, we pick up what the norms are and we go with it. We have a common life experience going through the motions. We repeat what has been done and taught. 

The difference between learning from experiences and just having been through experiences; is learning requires you to change something to get a different outcome. You see everyone has experience, they go through something. Everyone has lived in a sense, but the question is have they learned? You know what I mean, people who, “learned from their mistakes.” But they didn’t really, they didn’t change, they continue to make the same mistakes. For them they are so wrapped up in their lives, they do not see the pattern that they are caught in; they think this new thing/problem/person is different, but it isn’t. They lived through some hard times, yet they are always in hard times. They have gone through a couple of bad breakups. They have been there done that. They don’t know why things don’t go their way. They keep trying the same thing. 

The reason they don’t learn is learning requires asking better questions. Learning isn’t about just the gathering of knowledge. Learning is about the ability to do something. It is about skill acquisition. Asking questions from an experience will create an actionable knowledge base that they can draw from to make better informed decisions. So when a problem or challenge comes up they can do something about it. They are not at the mercy of life. Instead they are ready. Not everyone does this. Not everyone learns from their mistakes or the mistakes of others. Some people insist on making their own mistakes, no matter how bad life seems to get. 

When we learn from our experiences we can actually do life better. For example, if you are learning to draw, in the end you will be able to draw. If you are learning to play the piano, you should be able to play the piano. Just because we begin to learn something doesn’t mean we actually learn it. We have learned something when we can do it. By doing it we then have a choice to practice and advance our  ability or we can set it aside and let it sit at a novice stage; either way we can do something new. With life we can learn to make choices, we can learn how to interact with others, we can learn to enjoy the few precious moments we are given, and we can decide what is worth our effort and time. But if we do not learn, if we choose to repeat our mistakes, we lose the ability to have fun, we lose sight of our options and feel trapped. Our imagination fades and we lose the ability to picture a better life. We surrender our freedom to try; we settle and make what we do, have, and know a habit. We become what we repeatedly do, and in most cases it isn’t much.   

When we look around at our peers or elders we have a major problem; we mistake their experience as knowledge or wisdom. The problem comes when we take their advice.  People look at their elders and assume they know something. They assume by living as long as they have their experience has given them some sort of understanding about life. For some it is true, but for most people it hasn’t. They might have gone through life but they haven’t learned how to learn from their experience. They haven’t mastered themselves and moved from pawn to player. They let life shuffle them around and what they have learned is how to endure. With their limited scope of what life is about is the advice they speak from. They will tell you about security. They might tell you what they would do differently if they were your age. They might give you the advice they need. They might give you the advice you need and don’t want. But here is the thing about people stuck living the same year over and over again; they stopped living and slowly started to die a long time ago, they gave up on themselves and their potential. To live is to grow, it is to expand, and they didn’t. It is not that they are evil, but that their limited experience has stunted their growth. They can move beyond the motions, but that is a choice they would have to make. And most leave it to the young as if their time is up, as if they are too old, as if they are just a ghost waiting for the coffin to be put in the grave. 

Here is the thing, this is not a whole life condemnation. Some people excel at business, others at relationships, and some at video games, but there are parts of their lives that they lack experience. They might be wise when it comes to money and horrible at relationships. They might be great at relationships and horrible at work. They might have the richest spiritual life and their family is in poverty. Then there are some who will repeat the same day, week, month, season, year after year after year (my own flaw).
If life changes, they are not prepared to make new choices, they need things to be the same. They are trapped because they have become comfortable with their experience, good or bad.  

So, what can we do to learn from our lives?

We could count our blessings.

We could set goals.

We could write in a journal.

We could get an accountability partner. 

We could join a support group. 

We could pray for wisdom.

We could_________________.


We could start asking questions. We could take responsibility for what is happening and question our day, question our motives, question our who, what, when, where, how, why, how many/much, and answer with what could I do different; could this happen again, if so can I do it better; all those things above are good things, but to examine our lives, takes work and that is why we don’t do it.

Hopefully, This has given you something to ponder if you feel like you are on the carousal of life and you would like to actually move forward to something more. I know it has for me.

Until next time.

Nino Olson