Why experience is one’s most valuable asset.
“The Food Walks Out”
Virginia is a retired food caterer. She can look at a display of food in a restaurant, supermarket, or social event and immediately know whether it is done correctly. She says that oftentimes it is not the food itself that is wrong; it is the way it is placed on the table. When pressed why, she says she can’t explain it. “The food just doesn’t walk out” is her best answer. Virginia knows her business. When she took over the kitchen at a small liberal arts college, the sale of food immediately increased. Virginia knew not only how to cook great-tasting food but how to make the food “walk out.” What does Virginia see in a food display that others cannot? Other caterers at the college were educated in the culinary arts and had at least as much expertise as Virginia. However, Virginia had experience.
Tools for Success
Experience can be a person’s most effective tool for personal success, even more so than education and expertise. But it can also be the most frustrating because in real life, there is no “wrinkle in time” shortcut to reach it. Experience can only be acquired by the passage of time.
So what about those who are inexperienced or for whom the long game is too long? Is it possible to achieve success without experience? It depends on one’s goals and definition of success.
A few blocks from my house, there is a cornfield. Every spring new corn is planted; it grows during the summer and is harvested in the fall. Then the ground is cleared and furrowed, and the process is repeated. Some goals are like that–they are seasonal goals, “cornfield” goals. Winning “American Idol” is a seasonal goal. Like a new crop of corn, every season a new crop of singers shows up for auditions. They are culled and cultivated until at the end of the season, a winner is declared. Then the contestants are dismissed in preparation for a new crop of “American Idol” hopefuls. Seasonal goals can be achieved without much experience, but they are usually short-lived.
Many long-term goals, however, require experience, something that most young people do not have. You may find yourself in this position right now. You know what you want; you have the education and the expertise to get it, but you do not yet have a great deal of experience. I know what that is like. I have some recommendations that have worked for me and may work for you also.
Preview and Prepare
Find someone who is experienced in your field and ask permission to observe them at work. Like Virginia,they may not be able to explain what they do or why they do it, but it doesn’t matter. Observe, listen, and take notes. Document the small details until a pattern emerges. Ask specific questions about things you notice. In my case, I visited a gifted teacher’s classes on a regular basis and watched how she taught.
Practice and Perfect
Identify seasonal goals that support your long-term goal. Apply strategies you observe from those who are experienced to see how they work for you. Revise those strategies until they fit. Monitor their effectiveness in reaching your seasonal goals. For example, suppose your long-goal is to grow your audience. A seasonal goal could be perfecting your content or your performance. For me, I developed lessons for classes I planned to teach.
Perceive and Ponder
The great thing about the passage of time is that we all can experience it moment by moment. I recommend being mindful of the moments. Allow your senses to participate in what is happening in the “Now.” In an age of multi-tasking and urgency, participation in the moment builds a wealth of what I call “Unknown Knowledge”, that is, perceptions and impressions that get stored in the subconscious level. Even though they may never surface to the conscious level, they influence and temper that which does. They add layers of complexity to one’s education and expertise that increase one’s capital. In a room full of inexperienced people, it can make yours the voice to which others will listen.
Participation in the Process
A young woman named Michelle went to get a massage to ease tension in her back and alleviate stress. Before the massage session, she had a cup of tea in an adjoining tearoom. She allowed her senses to participate in the process. She listened to the sound of the water pouring into the cup; smelled the aroma of the tea brewing; she felt the warmth of the cup in her hands and savored the sip on hot tea on her tongue. At one point, she pressed her face to the window as her eyes tracked the height of an aspen tree. Then she looked around the room. Other people were there also having tea while waiting for their massage appointments, but unlike Michelle, they were all looking their computers or cell phones. Michelle enhanced the massage experience for her body by attending to her spirit.
Patience and Perseverance
There are some people that have more difficulty than others in playing the long game. Often they are afraid of missing out, of being left behind when others are going forward. They have somehow infused the idea of quickness with their definition of success. They are the people for whom the words “Get Rick Quick” are not a red flag but a green light. The seasonal goals probably work for them. However, if you have different expectations, if your goals are long-term, then you have a great tool just waiting for you. It is experience, a gift that Time gives to all of us, one moment after another.
You can observe a lot just by watching.