Have you learnt from your life?

January’s over and the lazy holiday season’s quickly fading from our corporate memory. For those of us with kids, school’s just gone back… Yay! They’re more out of our hair now they’ve begun their learning work for the year. We’ve sent them off to soak up more knowledge, in order for them to be better prepared for life.

What about you? No doubt your life’s busy – full with work and people and living – but are you ready to learn and grow this year?

What’s that? How many rolled eyes and groans of horror do I hear? Hmm… enough to remind me of a classroom!

Some of us decide to stop learning the minute we finally escape from school. Perhaps terrorised by bad experiences, we vow never go back to that stuff again. It was horrid once, and we’ll be damned if we’re going to put ourselves in that position all over.

I heartily empathise with your feeling- school wasn’t my favourite place either! But avoiding learning because of a negative experience won’t be helping your cause. Here’s why:

Most of us aspire to live a good life. To do that there are things we want to be different from the way they are now. Improved. That means change. And all change requires adaptation and learning.

Fortunately, schooling’s only part of our life’s education. You also learn in other ways. For example, there’s a whole world of informal education out there just waiting for you (my website over at Head Set Go‘s part of that!) Pick any topic you’re interested in and find a book, video, training or expert on it. Then, off you go!

But you can also learn from the things that happen to you. You can learn from your life.

Remember that time your parents told you not to do something and you did it anyway? You learnt then. If it happened the (bad) way they said, you learnt they were right. Maybe there were behavioural consequences. If you got away with it, you learnt something different. I’ve just remembered the time I played with matches and set our carpet on fire! My dad put it out – I was paralysed with fear – but I still carry a respectful awareness of the power of a tinsy bit of flame as a result of that bit of life!

Relationships, adventures, disasters; sport, friendships, hobbies. A disastrous financial move. The way people responded when you did X. You can learn from them all. If you’re smart.

Of course, it’s quite possible to ignore such lessons too.

Some of us have rather unrealistic concepts of how life will roll out. We might have too grandiose expectations for out situations, or expect others to do most of the work so we can have what we’d like. When people try to help us adapt (learn) a more realistic approach by not pandering to our desires, we refuse to pay attention. Smart people then exit our relationships or refuse to hand over the cash. People who won’t learn from those experiences and instead blame God, the universe or persons A, B and C (there’s always lots of them!) are foolish. Attempting to bend reality to suit themselves (rather than shaping themselves round reality) is one way to ignore the lessons life offers us.

Other people have too low an expectation of things – they’ve dropped their youthful dreams of a better life and slipped into the drudge of everyday living. When someone’s tried to make a go of it and failed, when they’ve put their hand up for that job and been rejected, they’ve decided what they’ve learnt from their life is to not keep trying. Perhaps that’s not ignoring the lessons in life – it’s just learning the wrong ones.

Finally, some people don’t look or try to learn anything at all. They’ve just passively let whatever happens, happen. They get up, deal with the family (or partner), go to work, come home and fall into bed. Next day, it’s a rinse and repeat of the one before it.

If you haven’t learnt from your life – in any of the ways I just described – or if you haven’t been learning from it lately, there’s a fair chance the people around you don’t find you especially compelling. Change and learning keep us interesting.

There’s a perception that young folks are the only ones capable of fun. It’s partly our culture’s bias towards youthfulness, but it’s also because older people can get boring. When you get stuck in the same old routines focused on keeping your head above water, there’s not much learning. You stagnate – there’s no growth edge – and that can make you dull.

Of course, there’s a swag of boring people out there existing in young people’s bodies. If they’ve stopped exploring their world and learning (or been taught by life not to try), a 20 year old’s no more interesting than anyone else.

Older can equal wiser. Smarter. Better. If you’ve learnt from your life and continue to do so. Or it can just be dull.

So here’s my question for you; What have you learnt from life – and is it good or bad? Have you learnt to keep trying and improving, or just to be passive? Have you figured out how to keep thinking about what’s happening and making adjustments across all areas of your life, so as to be healthy? (I wrote a post about that here if you don’t know what I mean.)

May I encourage you to make a point to consider what life’s teaching through what happens to you? Rather than just growing older, focus on growing wiser and richer for each experience.

PS Did school fail you?

As one who worked within the system (though never taught formal classes), I offer you my abject apology if school taught you to become less rather than more of who you are on your way through it. For any confidence it drained from you and for any negative expectations of your capacity it loaded on you, I say with all heart, it’s not supposed to be that way!! On behalf of the formal education system, please forgive us. Don’t make what you’ve learnt from your life negative. Get beyond it.

PPS I’m experimenting with quizzes.

If you’d like to take a simple, short quiz to see how well you’ve learnt from your life, start filling in the answers below!