Lessons or Experiences

From the folks I’ve talked to, there seems to be a consensus that school is focused on learning specific lessons. The expectation appears to be that the student does not know anything, so must be taught by the teacher. Further, it is assumed that the teacher knows what would be valuable for the student to learn.

The closer you are to educational systems, the more you realize that it’s all about the curriculum chosen. There is no way that any one teacher or any one student could know all things, so choices must be made and priorities decided about what to focus on in the classroom.

Inevitably, certain events and facts get lost in the shuffle. And then, there is the tendency to slant important details to suit whoever is in charge.

A glaring case in point was demonstrated to me during one of Maureen’s and my vacations. We visited Vancouver, Canada (absolutely gorgeous, by the way) and were fascinated to discover an enormous mural depicting a series of skirmishes that resulted in Canada winning a major battle against the United States. We looked at each other and asked ourselves, “Didn’t our textbooks say that we won that? We could have sworn they were quite specific on that point.”

Hmmm?

Well, no matter. I mean, it happened so long ago. What difference does it really make?

Perhaps, if it were an isolated instance, it wouldn’t matter. But it has ramifications far beyond which side actually won, because it’s unclear if there is a definitive correct answer, so what level of trust can you put in any of your lessons?

Along with many others I know, I come across events in my life and one of my first reactions is to wonder if there is a ‘lesson’ in it for me.

In school we are taught to learn our lessons. If we fail to do that, we’re told, we’ll need to repeat the class, UNTIL we’ve learned our lesson. This is potent stuff, unless you like summer school.

One trip there was enough to cure me. Who would want, after a very long school year, to spend the hot summer in a stuffy classroom trying to relearn a subject you didn’t like in the first place? No one, that’s who.

Here’s the real rub for me.

This whole idea of having to learn our lessons gets carried over into the rest of our lives. When faced with dilemmas and problems that don’t feel resolvable to us, I often hear people say to one another, “well, I guess you’ve haven’t learned your lesson yet.”

Beyond this not being the least bit helpful, it perpetuated the idea that there is one correct answer, and clearly, we’ve missed it.

I’d like to offer an alternative thought for your consideration.

Suppose there are NO specific lessons for you to have to learn. And, of course, this means there are no lessons you have to repeat until you get them right.

What if life is just a series of experiences? Simple experiences, without right and wrong answers. Without implications or attached judgements? Would that change things for you?

When I shift away from ‘lessons’ and focus on ‘experiences’, it makes a powerful difference to me. I can let go of worrying about getting life ‘right’ and open to the treasure inside of each of the experiences I encounter.

I admit that sometimes I have to dig deeply to uncover the treasure, but I’ve found it is always there waiting for me.

Perhaps if you give this shift a chance, you’ll find all of the treasure you are searching for. I certainly hope so.

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Failure IS an option

Some people say, “failure is not an option”.

Most times I think what they mean is that they can’t or don’t want to accept the result of what they perceive as a failure. They have in mind certain acceptable outcomes and no deviation can be tolerated.

I’ve been there. It’s not a great place to spend any time. Having your back against the wall with nowhere to go is hard.

But having an unrealistic expectation that you are never going to fail is even harder.

We’ve each been taught about the meaning of failure, whether directly or indirectly. I wonder, were you taught that failure was an enemy or a teacher? It makes a really big difference in how we see the world and our place in it.

And, what about success? Is success the opposite of failure? Do we listen to our inside voice or are we swayed by the opinions of others?

How do we define each of these words? And based on our definitions, how is our world altered?

And then there is this. Have I gained more from success or failure?

These all strike me as worthwhile questions to ask. For me, it’s been a valuable struggle to come to some conclusions. I’d like to share a few thoughts, in case you are struggling too.

When I was in high school I was an okay student and I thought my Math skills were decent and yet I failed one year. I had to go to summer school, which I certainly didn’t prefer. But I connected with the teacher, really learned the subject and was prepared for the next year. A real failure?

Fast forward a few years. I am staring downhill from the top of a black diamond ski trail. In case you’re not familiar with skiing, this is a trail for experts, which I was not. I thought to myself, I can do this, so down I went. Quite literally in fact. This one short trail produced all of my most epic wipe-outs. I mean spectacular, snow flying everywhere, unqualified disasters. Definitely a failure?

One more. My son, Tommy and I spent a weekend in the Adirondacks with the intention to hike one of the peaks called Three Brothers. We started pretty early in the morning and made our way up through blankets of rain and shrouds of mist. It was richly enjoyable spending time together. The hike though seemed like it took forever. Finally, we thought we’d made the summit, only to find a couple coming at us from what we learned was a higher elevation. We conferred with them. They took us a bit further up a trail and pointed to the distance. There was still much more to go to reach the peak. While I’m positive Tommy could have made it, I couldn’t. I’d have to content myself with having hiked up Two and a Half Brothers. For sure a failure, right?

Here’s what’s come to me.

Failure is inevitable, if what you mean by failure is not achieving a specific defined goal. If you open up failure and see it as a sacred teacher, you’ll see something valuable show up in your life. If you ask yourself what have I gained from this experience, you’ll encourage some extraordinary truths to surface.

I found a teacher who cared about me.

I created a sense of admiration for myself for trying something I suspected was beyond my limits.

And, I learned it’s not just about the destination or the summit. A truth was revealed to me that life is a beautiful journey, lived one step at a time.

I hope failure reveals truths to you too.

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