How do you make sense of the most challenging or adverse experiences in your life? You teach about them.
Remember the days when most of your learning came from a teacher or textbook, intermixed with interactions on the playground? As we grew into adults, our experiences seemed to almost suddenly became more complex and multi-faceted…sometimes striking from seemingly out of nowhere with the swift kick of adversity.
Seated in those circumstances, it can be exponentially difficult to make sense out of what has happened or is happening. Such a scenario is sadly too commonplace in our world where we have to process such incomprehensible acts as terrorism, inexplicable illness and global political upheaval.
Albert Einstein said in relation to Galileo’s Science, “Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical world; all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it. Propositions arrived at by purely logical means are completely empty as regards reality.”
While it is human to struggle with being able to mentally process unfathomable circumstances or great personal challenge, it is also true that our greatest knowledge stems from experience, and in particular, these most trying experiences of our lives. This is why we must endeavor to extract the valuable, teachable lessons that lie within our experiences.
If every single day, in every moment, regardless of its high or low,
we have at our hands a source of knowledge. Embrace your experiences.
Life will always involve peaks and valleys from the incredibly adventurous to the truly adverse. Within this journey, we all have a unique composite of experience that only we can speak to. If every single day, in every moment we experience, regardless of its high or low, we have at our hands a source of knowledge, why is it that we are not more fully embracing the opportunity to learn and to teach?
While we may quickly jump to share insight gained from a book, course or classroom, how often do we think about teaching what we’ve learned through the course of our own life?
In the most basic form, life is a classroom. Through the power of choice, our lives become a self-directed study…and even if we are not always consciously choosing the lessons life is attempting to teach us, we always get to choose what we extract and learn. It is each of us who ultimately decides the depth and scope of our studies. It is we who determine the meaning in our lives.
Not every experience is going to make sense; not all lessons are going to be easily extractable. Our minds and hearts may never be able to process how a terrorist can kill innocent people, or illness can take the life of someone who did only good for the world. When we’ve given ourselves time to feel and heal, what we can do is create meaning, by choosing to transform our experiences into something of value for others. We can teach what we’ve learned.
Looking back at the most adverse or adventurous experiences of your life, ask yourself:
- How was I different after the experience? What growth occurred from what I endured and pursued?
- If I look through the pain or suffering, what potential or strength becomes visible?
- What part of my learning could be easily adapted by others and help them grow, heal or ease their pain?
Through books, speeches and conversations, those who have chosen to embrace and learn from their experiences are contributing their experiential knowledge to ease the way for others. However, you don’t have to be a professor, author or speaker to share the valuable knowledge and insight you are intended to share with others. You need only make 3 key choices….
3 Choices to Maximize Your Innate Teaching and Mentoring Ability
- Be a Student, Always – Before we can be teachers, we must be students. The student in all of us is like the child in all of us – the endlessly curious part that ceaselessly asks questions. Stay humble, knowing we will never know it all, and always have so much to learn. Embrace the opportunities for learning and growth that are always within your grasp. Allow something greater than your mind to guide you to answers that you didn’t even realize you were seeking. Our unfolding journey of realizing and transcending human potential is one of ever-evolving growth. The more we learn, the more we have to teach…and the more we teach, the more we learn.Roman philosopher Seneca said, “While we teach, we learn.” 19th century French moralist and essayist Joseph Joubert said, “To teach is to learn twice.” This isn’t a radical theory, but rather a time-tested principle; and bringing our awareness to our innate capacity to be teachers and grow through teaching is invaluable. In the Time Magazine article, “The Protégé Effect,” author Annie Murphy Paul explain how scientists are documenting and modernizing the ancient theory that we learn while we teach. In relation to recent studies she states, “Students enlisted to tutor others, these researchers have found, work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively. In what scientists have dubbed ‘the protégé effect,’ student teachers score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own sake.” At the University of Pennsylvania, a “cascading mentoring program” encourages college undergraduates to teach computer science to high school students, who in turn teach the knowledge to middle school students. The same format of program has been used for medical students at Altitude, a healthcare mentoring program in Toronto. There, mentees are required to give back as mentors, sharing their knowledge and experience with new participants, who then pass the knowledge on to the youth in their community. One of the greatest benefits of the Altitude program was determined to be community connections.What is the root of the word communication? It is the Latin word communis, meaning “common.” To teach what we learn, is to make common, relatable, understandable – to give it meaning for both parties.
- Lead by Loving Your Experiences – Natural leaders trust their intuition, drawing on knowledge and insight gained from past experiences to guide them. They embrace experiences as teachers, knowing there is always something to be learned…and they extend that learning forward to ease the way for others. Their efficacy stems from the awareness of their experience and empathy in relation to the struggles of others. They want to be a guide who eases the way. In her article “10 Impressive Characteristics Great Leaders Have,” author Tegan Jones shares how to stay positive, maintain confidence, have humor, embrace failures, listen, inspire, take responsibility, make decisions based on lessons learned in the past and lead by example – the characteristics of great leaders…and easily-applicable choices in our everyday lives.We all have the capacity to be teachers and leaders, whether our platform is our family, company, community or humanity. Someone is always watching and wanting to learn from us…and their wanting to learn gives us the opportunity to grow. When we share our experiential knowledge and insight, we also allow ourselves to embrace our triumphs and feats, rather than brushing them off as simply “doing what we had to do.” We use them for good – for the betterment of others.
- Create Meaning in Your Life – It is us who create the meaning of life. Psychologist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl founded logotherapy based on the belief a lack of meaning causes mental health issues. His work lives on, in attempts to help others find meaning and solve their problems by redirecting “unhealthy attention” away from the problems we are trying to solve. This theory holds true when we teach what we’ve learned (or are learning) in order to heal and create meaning from our experiences.Meaning is the definition we give to our lives – what we decide we will stand for. Creating meaning from our experiences gives depth to our lives, it expands our “story” to move far beyond the sometimes crippling nature of experiences that happened “to us,” lending to a sense of empowerment in how we are shaping our lives. Transforming our life’s experiences into valuable knowledge and insight for others is one of the most powerful choices for creating meaning. It allows us to simultaneous be both a student and a teacher – as we embrace the lessons life has gifted us and use them as a foundation to ease the way for others.It is we who create the meaning in our lives through the value we offer. We gift that value through the extraction of lessons, transformation of problems into powerful practices, building of experiential knowledge and shared insight from the experiences in our lives. It begins by being an observer, of ourselves and of others. Sometimes it requires a bird’s eye perspective to see your experiences through a broader lens. Witness, question, observe and heal. Has the experience built enthusiasm or has it provoked empathy? Share your evolution of learning and growth with others…they may very well be on a similar journey. As leadership teacher Simon Sinek says, “Helping people solve the problem you are struggling with actually helps you solve your problem.” This is the multi-faceted benefit of sharing what we have learned or are learning from our experiences. We create a partnership with our audience, where we develop compassion, rapport and deeper understanding with each other. After all, we are all living this same life through our own unique lenses.
We all need to share our value – the gifts, perspective, and knowledge that stem from our unique composite of experiences. Each one of us is intended to help others with a specific challenge or question – to offer a hand and walk them through the rocky unknown with a greater sense of ease and confidence. Choosing to learn from our own experiences and from others’ experiences means that we are honoring and maximizing what we create of this opportunity called life.
If what you have learned through your experiences means something to you, share it. Speak about the value and meaning that you have discovered and that others have provided for you. Use this in a way that inspires and empowers others to discover their value – the teachable, sharable lessons – within their experiences. As Einstein stated, our experiences are our greatest teachers – the source of knowledge. Be a student and be a teacher – you have the capacity and opportunity to do both.
How do you make sense of the most challenging or adverse experiences in your life? You do so by creating meaning, by teaching what you’ve learned.