The value of experience hasn’t always been apparent to me. From the time I was a wee little tadpole in grade school, I, like many others, was being prepped to get an education. The formula was simple:
get a degree > to get a [good] job > to make money
I was warned if I didn’t stick to this flow, I would be severely handicapped in the rat race of life; a rat without a tail, or teeth, or eyes, or hands…just a nub of a body with whiskers! (gasp)
As the tadpole sprouted legs and was graduating from High School, I remember being asked what I wanted to do with my life (as if it were so easily discovered, defined, or conceived). I did what most people do in High School: cheated off my peers.
Wait, wait…that’s now what I meant to say…I meant, looked to my fellow classmates for inspiration. Yep, that’s it.
The most prepared graduate would offer a nice and neat plan complete with 5 bullets and a clean PowerPoint presentation equipped with smooth animations and transitions. The realists would reluctantly tell you they had no idea, ashamed of not having their life together. And yet others had no aspirations at all. Unless, of course, aspiring to the esteemed position of Chief Couch Potato counts.
The student who had it all figured out would have a plan that looked something like:
- I’m going to go to this school,
- then get this degree (with honors),
- then land a job at X right away,
- make a trillion dollars in the first year,
- buy a yacht or a small island in year two,
- and live happily ever after with the girl or guy of my dreams (also in the same year).
Clearly, this plan is bulletproof and infallible. There’s no way things can go wrong. I mean, you have a PowerPoint presentation for crying out loud! And if you’re reading this and I accidentally wrote your exact plan for life and you’ve lived out steps 1-6, please buy me a $5 box (+ tax) from Taco Bell or something. That is all. Thank you.
Unless you’re a freak, you probably didn’t have a plan from birth of what you were going to “be,” and even if you did, it has probably changed a thousand times by now with adjustments being made on a weekly basis.
You wanted to be an astronaut in Kindergarten, a professional wrestler in Second Grade, a veterinarian in Middle School (doesn’t every kid at some point?), and by the time your senior year came around, some of you asked Uncle Google for the “highest paying jobs for the least amount of education” before etching your plan into stone for approval. As college came around–assuming you went, and you finished–you changed your major, you dropped out, or even better, you finished your degree and found a job in something completely unrelated. Yay! Go life!
Real life coming at you like:
\\\There Is No Spoon
Now, I want to clear the air and offer my legal disclaimers: I like education. I went to (community) college, I’ve studied, and I’ve taken exams, I <3 certificates as much as the next guy. (And just to clarify, I’m not talking about PKI. Unless you were dropped as a baby, everybody hates working with certificates.)
Even if you got that degree, that certification, that license…you soon came to learn that it might get you in the door, but it isn’t necessarily going to keep you there. The hypothetical situations and theoretical concepts you learned clashed with reality when the rubber met the road and you realized there were so many other factors you hadn’t planned for.
But whether you followed your plans and the planets aligned or whether you literally have been bouncing around like an infinite loop, the one thing you have gained is experience. And the value of experience is priceless.
\\\The Best Teacher
Sometimes you learn what works and what you should repeat. Other times, you learn what not to do again…Fire, bad. Experience teaches lessons that a book, class, paper, or speech never can. Sure, you can learn about the concepts but experiencing it for yourself is completely different. Sometimes even the documentation can contradict itself in practice. But acting upon the knowledge gained is the game changer. Fear of the unknown is squashed by experience. Confidence is built as new adventures are embarked upon, each new experience adding to who you are as a person.
For all the good it offers, experience, if not checked, can also lead to pride. Pride in your own accomplishments, arrogance in your own ability, forgetting your origin, becoming stagnant in your progress…all of these are dangers that come along with experience.
But experience teaches me something else. I won’t even pretend like my experiences are the standard to measure by, but I definitely had humble beginnings. Not like barefoot, in the snow, uphill both ways, with no legs kind of humble, but pretty close. From experience, I know there are so many unforeseen obstacles and challenges out there that it would be foolish of me to act as if I was invincible. I’ve learned not to get my validation from my accomplishments and what somebody else can bestow upon me and instead to know who I am for myself. I’ve learned not to despise and look down on the humble beginnings of others because I remember my own. And lastly, I’ve learned to adapt, change, and not become set in my ways and that I am who I am today because of the good (and bad) experiences of yesterday.
You can’t put a price on experience. You can’t skip over it, you can’t go around it, and you definitely can’t deny the difference it makes in your life. Confidence, not arrogance, should be our target. The confidence in your own ability, not in the knowledge you possess or the definitions you’ve memorized, but in your ability to adapt and overcome challenges along with the recognition of the areas where you lack. That’s what experience brings to the table. Work history, past projects, track records, even failures…it should all make you a better candidate for the role, a better fit for the position, and in reality, a better person. It’s the value of experience in your past that makes you valuable in the future.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all ice cream and unicorns. Confucius said that experience is the most bitter way to get wisdom, C.S. Lewis said it was the most brutal of teachers, and Ecclesiastes paints a bleak picture from somebody who has seen it all. And yet, we are the summation of our experiences; the result of everything we’ve been through. Use it to your advantage: not to be bitter, but to be better. Never stop learning, always keep growing, and soak in every experience good and bad. Because the value of experience cannot be overstated.