Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On Learning From Experience... the hard way

As we drive home from daycare I often ask my son, “What did you learn in school today?”  Lately, his answer is “the usual.” And so I have to prompt him a little to be more specific – "what is 'the usual”?
“Oh, math and reading…same as always.”
“Well what kind of things did you learn in math?  Did you ask any good questions?”
This will usually elicit more detail and I’m glad to hear him itemize the small parts of his day, to hear him attend to detail about the time he's spent away from me. Some days he tells me he doesn’t remember what he learned that morning. OK, that’s fair; some days I don’t remember what I had for breakfast. Or if  I had breakfast. I'm grateful that at least (so far) he hasn’t told me he learned nothing.
Recent events in my life - more specifically some failed relationships - made me think about how innocently K explains what he learned.  I wondered...

How often do we minimize or discredit what we’ve learned from an experience?
As parents, we teach our children by modelling behaviour. When I talk with K about things that have happened in his life, I do some role playing and have him try to view the situation compassionately from multiple angles rather than to judge. I often ask him, “OK, so what have you learned?” His answers are surprisingly insightful.
When given the opportunity to think through a situation, to empathize with another’s position, it’s much easier to answer the question, to have someone guide us toward that realization, than it is to asses a situation on our own.
But we don’t always have those prompts when faced with real life and that’s where learning self-reflective behaviour is good. In fact it’s imperative. In order to truly grow as human beings, we must put self-reflection into practice. We must be able to not only understand a life experience, but also understand what we can learn from it.
I recently read that: “Knowledge can be acquired only by a corresponding experience. How can we know what we are told merely? Each man can interpret another’s experience only by his own.”
How true is it that no matter how often we hear something, we don’t truly understand until we’ve experienced it personally? For me the last year and a half has been eye-opening in that regard. I have faced surprising and unexpected challenges in the pursuit of my goals and I’ve learned a few things for certain as a result:
You cannot change people. You may get them to change their habits, perhaps. But ultimately a person will not change unless it is their desire to do so. and if that happens, you won’t get a vote. You can only choose to disassociate from the situation if that is a healthier option. You can only control your own decisions.
You will not hear an apology from someone who does not believe they have done anything that warrants one. Don’t try. Move on.
It does not matter what other people believe. Whether complimentary or not, what other people think of you is simply their opinion. What you think about yourself matters a whole lot more. Just make sure you are thinking clearly.
Everyone has days they believe only the worst of themselves. Self-doubt is normal; self-brutalization is unhealthy. When you find yourself awake at night questioning every choice you have ever made, do some self-assessment, re-focus on your goals, and screw your head on straight.
Don't Chase People.  People can say a lot of things just to keep the peace.  They can say that they value you. They can say they like you.  They can say that they miss you.  Don't chase after people based on their words alone.  My experience has taught me to keep an open heart and mind but DO NOT chase after people who pay lip service.   Allow people to show you their hearts and feelings in actions.  Believe them when they do.  

Life is hard. Even the most exciting or desirable pursuit will still hold challenge. There will be days you wonder why you thought your goal was a good idea; remember the reasons why it is. If it is your passion, do not give up. Strap on your crash helmet and keep going.