Appreciating the Value of Life as a Learning Experience

by Percival J. Meris on October 18, 2010

learning experience

Learning Experience Photo Courtesy of Mokra via stock.xchng

LEARNING EXPERIENCE IS WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT. Older people have had a lot more of these learning experiences than the younger ones. That is why they are often revered for their wisdom, and sought for their advice.

Experience is the best teacher. So goes the saying. But I say otherwise. I say:

    Experience is the ONLY teacher.
    The earth is a school of learning.
    Life on earth is a learning experience.

That is what life on earth is all about – nothing else. By learning, we are able to transform ourselves into a masterpiece – a splendid character, a magnificent US.

Experience Teaches; Teachers Do Not.

If experience is the only teacher, then human teachers do not really teach. So, what do they do to deserve their title?

Teachers ONLY provide structured learning experiences to their students, and facilitate in their students’ intellectual processing of these experiences. A good teacher provides high-quality learning experience. She brings her students as close as possible to the actual experience.

Owing to the unavailability most of the time of first-hand learning experience, she often provides vicarious ones. Vicarious experiences are substitutes or representations of the real experiences. They come in form of pictures, recordings, activities, exercises, words, and other symbols. A lecture is a learning experience of vicarious nature in the form of verbal representations (words).

Life on Earth Is a Whole Gamut of Learning Experience

If we accept this statement, then it would be more proper to say “experience of life”, rather than “experiences in life.” Life itself is the experience. Its sole purpose is for us to learn from it.

We Experience Life Through Our Body

Life on earth is mainly characterized by having a body. Without it, there is no such thing as life on earth. The body is an important element here because it is through it that we experience life. Through it, we experience sensations and emotions. With them, we experience pain and pleasure and a whole spectrum of everything in between.

Pain is an indication something is wrong, and needs to be put right. Nature has intended it that we shun away from pain, and be attracted to pleasure. This is a built-in feedback mechanism and a self-correcting device as we steer our life to our destiny.

Pain is the result of some infractions – i.e. you did it the wrong way, and pain is the result, a warning to you to avoid repeating what you just did. Stop and mend your ways now to avoid the same pain in the future. If you do, you learn from the experience.

Learning from (Bad) Life Experience Produces a Better Version of You

I am reminded of a story that I read in Readers’ Digest several years ago. It was presented as a joke, but contains a lot of truth in it.

A dialogue between two men about the secret of success went on something like this:

    “What is the secret of your success?”
    “Good decisions.”
    “How did you learn to make good decisions?”
    “Experience.”
    “Where did you get your experience?”
    “Bad decisions.”

Thomas Edison: His Bad Experiences Led to His Phenomenal Success

Consider the life story of inventor Thomas Alva Edison. His success was the result of thousands of bad experiences, known to ordinary mortals as “failures”. Where others would give up, frustrated and exasperated, and consider themselves as having failed, he knew that if he persisted, the right answer would, by process of elimination, reveal itself.

Some of his famous quotes have something to do with this.

    “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
    “Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.”
    “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

After eight thousand disappointing experiences with his experiments on the battery, Edison finally perfected it in 1910. “Well, at least,” he said, “we know eight thousand things that don’t work.”

Extending Our Own Life Learning Experience

There are many lessons that have been created as a result of life as a learning experience. They have been learned by different peoples at different times in different places. They are handed down to succeeding generations through their stories.

Primary and Vicarious Life Learning Experiences

We have our own direct personal experiences, too (primary experience). However, our individual learning experiences are but very limited, and comprise only an extremely small portion of the entire life learning experience of humanity.

Unless we profit from the life learning experiences of others, we stand to lose out on the opportunity always present and available to us during our lifetime. We can gain access to the experiences of others by knowing their stories mostly through reading, listening, and viewing their information (vicarious experience).

Books are storehouses of experiences. There have been trillions and trillions of them written. So, read, read, read. It is the easiest way to gain access to these experiences. Read books that share with you the insights and wisdom of great thinkers. Read those that make you better persons, those that bring out the best in you.

Two-Pronged Life Learning Experience Strategy

The primary and the vicarious types of experience should constitute our two-prong strategy for learning. We should strive to enrich our life learning experience with those of others. The inclusion of the latter can result in multiplying our learning a hundredfold.

The greater the vicarious experience, the smaller our primary experience becomes in proportion to the sum of the two. Let us strive to increase its proportion not by reducing the vicarious experiences but by applying the learning from them to our practical lives in order to transform them into primary.

Life as a Learning Experience Should Result in Wisdom

While wisdom experience is usually accumulated over period of time, it is also possible to gain general wisdom experience from a single specific momentary event in one’s life.

After undergoing a significant life experience, we should ask what lessons we can learn from it. Processed, experience does result in wisdom.

How to Process Experience into Wisdom

When an event takes place in your life, you are immersed in it. You are too proximate to see it in its entirety. So, you need an observing eye of a person outside yourself for you to be able to comprehend what is happening to you. That is why when confronted with such a situation, you need their counsel.

If you know how, you can process your experience even without a counsel. After the event, it is possible to look back at what happened, and see it now with the observing eye of a person outside it.

Analyzing Your Experience

First, define what it was exactly. Like a mirror, reflect on the details of the event for the purpose of analyzing them. Ask the classic questions of what, who, when, and where.

To define it further, distinguish it from what it is NOT. For example, that what was said was a statement of opinion, not of fact.

But the most important question to ask is “why?”. Why did it happen?

Evaluating Your Experience

What has been the consequence of your experience? Was it favorable or unfavorable? How can you avoid recurrence of an unfavorable experience?

Hopefully, this exercise will gain for you an insight, a lesson, a learning. Summarize and express this learning in one simple sentence.

Then, benefit from it. Make it useful. Apply it to similar situations.

Welcome Opportunities for a New Life Learning Experience

It is possible to force-feed new experiences into our lives for the purpose of extending learning opportunities. Here are some ways:

    Step out of your comfort zone.
    To broaden your horizon, you must hatch out from the security of your shell – your so-called comfort zone – and venture into the world outside it. In this way, you enrich your life with more learning experiences than your confinement can provide.

    Welcome change.
    Change is an event we cannot avoid. Some people resist it, because it takes them out of their comfort zones. By resisting, they cause themselves stress. A positive outlook to change considers it a new opportunity for learning, because it is a new experience.

    Accept challenges.
    A challenge results in change and in breaking out of the comfort zone. It calls for meeting a new experience, which sometimes demands new learning to be able to deal with it.

    Dare to make mistakes.
    Make them early. Learn from them fast. Mistakes are experiences that teach you what things do not work. By committing several mistakes, we are able, by process of elimination, to discover the correct path. And so, we learn what things work and what things do not.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

What do you do when things do not work out? Read the instructions.

Life does not have written instructions. It is a journey of discovery through trial and error, which only experience can provide. In other words, by experiencing life, we learn what work and what do not.

Experience life, and from its lessons, write your own instructions on how to live it. That is the value of life as a learning experience.


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