NO EXPERIENCE IS EVER WASTED
Recently, someone whom I'd just met was reading my bio and noted that I'd majored in acting at Yale Graduate School of Drama. "Wow, that must have been a lot of work," he said, "but what does that have to do with your career? I mean, you're obviously not an actor now. Seems like a waste.." "Actually," I responded just a tiny bit stiffly, "I use what I learned there all the time - in fact the experience was absolutely invaluable. I wouldn't trade it for anything.”
Our older daughter, Kate, got her Master's in War Studies at King’s College in London. Her career is in advertising and public relations. I wouldn't blame you if you said, "Boy, that was an expensive detour. What in the world do "war studies" have to do with advertising and PR, for heaven's sake?" And I feel quite certain Kate would say simply, "A lot."
We've all taken seeming "detours" in our lives...investing time, money, maybe a lot of effort and, not to mention emotion, in something: learning a new skill, moving into a new industry, giving our all to a new experience, a new relationship - that didn't pan out - or turned out to be seemingly irrelevant to our lives. In fact, I bet you could probably compile a whole list of "flyers" that "never turned into anything." But I bet if you look hard, you'll find that in fact the experience, the effort, the learning, maybe even the "suffering" was, in fact "worth something" - that you were changed as a result, that you gained an insight, added a dimension, maybe built some character...that you "evolved."
No experience is ever wasted - not the good, the bad or even the ugly. And certainly, not the "hard." I spent nearly 5 years in junior high and high school in a pool, doing laps, wind sprints, practicing my racing dive, my flip turns, reeking of chlorine, eyes red and watering, getting up at first light to go to practice, traveling hundreds of miles with my parents to swim in AAU meets across the country. It was pretty much all I did...other than study. (Parties and boys came in second...) And all that effort seemed to pay off when I qualified to try out for the Olympics in the 100 meter freestyle. It was a big deal. I, like everybody else, was a nervous wreck. I shared a hotel room with another swimmer and barely slept the night before my race. Standing up on the starting block, shaking out my arms and legs, breathing in, blowing out, waiting for "Judges and timers ready...swimmers take your mark...." I glanced at the girl in the next lane; she was the strongest looking, best built athlete - swimmer or non-swimmer - I'd ever seen. "I should've worked out more" flashed through my mind...) but the crack of the starter’s gun interrupted that thought. And we were off. It wasn't my best race. In fact it wasn't good enough. I missed qualifying for the finals (and ultimately making the team) by a few fractions of a second.
It was pretty disappointing. In fact, a friend of my parents' said the following week, "What a shame. All those years and all that effort...for nothing." "Not for nothing," my dad said. “Gail will use this experience her whole life." (What a great guy he was..) And he was right. In fact, I bet I learned as much from not making it as I would have from making it. Maybe more. Among all the learnings were, 1. Losing wasn't the end of the world, oddly enough. In fact it was...okay. Ultimately, I realized that the real thrill came from the effort. 2. You've got to do the laps. Nobody can do them for you. (I mean, where else could I have learned that?) 3. The exact moment when you think you’re completely out of gas is the exact moment when that out-of-the-blue burst of energy kicks in. You can count on it. Oh, and one more thing: not smelling of chlorine is a good thing...
So listen, take a look back in your life at the "experiences" you've had that you might've been tempted to write off as a "waste" - of time, money, energy, emotion - and then think again. We are nothing more - or less - than the sum total of all our experiences - the good, the bad and the ugly. But in the end, it all counts. And that, as it turns out, is something to celebrate.
Gail Blanke’s Lifedesigns©2013 All Rights Reserved
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