ExperienceMay 22, 2023
Astronaut and test pilot Colonel Frank Bowman once described experience as it relates to aviators: A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill.
As a pilot, I appreciate the wisdom of this quote for obvious reasons.
I appreciate the implications of this quote in a much more universal way. Experience is the only way to gain judgment.
There are ways to accelerate the formation of judgment. Good parents, caretakers and teachers can help. Positive role models of any age and at any stage of life can provide valuable cues as to the most adaptive responses to many life situations.
But experience is the greater part of decision-making. Despite our efforts to observe and emulate and study, we learn by trying.
Experience – like all good scientific experiments – comes from trial and error. We make our best educated guess (a hypothesis), take action (the experiment) and observe the results (the outcome). Whatever the outcome, we file it away as information to be considered for our next experiment.
Sometimes we don’t use the available information. We discard advice from well-meaning friends and family, ignore our instincts (our “better judgment”), throw caution to the wind and just go for it.
The results from these less-than-scientific life experiments is frequently very informative. The experience we gain from these “in the moment” actions typically falls into one of two categories.
Light and Shade
When we achieve the results we desire as a result of spontaneous, unreasoned action, we learn that sometimes intuition is all we need. When we carefully consider the pros and cons of the action we are about to take – and then do the exact opposite – things can still turn out in our favor. In those cases, we learn that sometimes intuition beats reasoning.
But as anyone with any experience has experienced, not all experiences are positive.
Disaster often comes in spite of months – or years – of detailed project management. The best-laid schemes o’ mice and men/Gang aft agley, as Robert Burns observed.
Impetuous decisions also commonly do not end well. These “bad” decisions are revealed either through immediate negative consequences or in the harsh light of hindsight. Alexander Pope expressed this concept (in iambic pentameter, no less) when he wrote, Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
If you try and succeed, experience notes all the details. Try and fail; experience records the entire event. If you don’t try and accidentally succeed or fail anyway, experience calmly and accurately adds to your storehouse of knowledge. Experience is inherently neither good nor bad. It is simply grist for the proverbial mill of future decisions.
Experience is as blind as justice.
But why can’t we just read about what to do in every instance and avoid all of the negative bits of trial-and-error learning?
Why can’t someone just tell us what’s best for us so that we avoid the heartache of stupid decisions?
Experience is Unique
It’s all circular. Experience is based upon the outcomes of judgement, which is based upon previous experiences.
It is more accurate to say that your experience is based on your judgement and the outcomes of your decisions, which are informed by your previous experiences.
You are as unique as a snowflake. Even more unique, really, because snowflakes don’t have more than 70 trillion possible combinations of alleles in their genes. Or DNA at all, for that matter.
Like your fingerprints, your experience is shared by no other human. Your specific combination of nature (your heritable traits) and nurture (things you have learned from your environment) results in… well, you.
Even identical twins (who have exactly the same DNA) aren’t identical, because of their unique experiences.
All of this psychobiology just means that what works for one person is unlikely to be a perfect fit for you. And the longer you live, the more unique experiences you add to the mix.
This is the problem I have with social media “influencers” who – with their trendy unshaven peach fuzz and backwards baseball hats – want to tell me the best way to raise children. When their eldest child is six. You haven’t even started parenting yet!
Or “life coaches” who have not yet successfully completed 30 years of life. Experience is the most valuable asset a life coach can offer. And experience is gained as a matter of time.
The same goes for 18 year-old “dating coaches” and teenage spiritual gurus (OK, if you have been reincarnated 14 times, the foregoing does not apply) and so on.
This is not to say that an experienced therapist or life coach can’t add to your experience, but choose someone who has been around long enough to – at least – be aware of the hubris of youth.
Ah, well; caveat emptor, amiright?
In the end, only you know (or at least make your best guess about) what is best for you, based on your experience.
Experiences Add to Your Experience
So get out there and have lots of experiences to add to your ever-expanding cache of experience. Take your best – independent – shot and don’t be afraid to crash and burn in a spectacular manner.
Be of good cheer! Remember, no one can fail in exactly the same way as you.
And – more seriously – no one else can chart your specific course to happiness and purpose.
With a little luck, your superior judgement will render the use of your superior skill unnecessary.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. You can reach me through the comments section on my Substack or Medium accounts or the blog section on my website. If this article as of value to you, please follow my Instagram and Twitter accounts. And be sure to subscribe to my River Of Creation podcast – The Podcast for Creators! – coming later this year.
Be well; do good!
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