“The only source of knowledge is experience.”
– Albert Einstein
EXPERIENCE. What have your experiences taught you? How much time do you spend thinking about what you want to do with your life versus actually doing it? When was the last time you shared your personal knowledge with others?
Experience is life’s great teacher. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.” One of the people I admire the most is my great Aunt Mary Jane Lindsey James. Although Aunt Jane only had a 4th grade formal education, she was one of the most intelligent, honest and courageous people you would ever have met – a woman of very strong character. She lived to be 100 years old, and seemed to be present for every moment of those days.
Aunt Jane was born in Columbia, North Carolina on July 4, 1904. She married at a young age, was widowed by the age of 19, and left with a young son. She believed in land and homeownership, following in the tradition of her grandmother, a full-blooded Cherokee Indian nurse and midwife, who was often paid for her services with land. She worked initially as a domestic and saved her money until she had enough to buy her first house in her early 20’s. She had the entrepreneurial spirit of her grandfather, Robert Lindsey, who was the first African-American to own a general store in Boston, Massachusetts. In her early years, she opened a restaurant, had a taxi service and was even a bondswoman — which means she had good business sense and access to cash! As early as the 1940’s, Aunt Jane was a pioneer in teaching homeownership to young people who would come up from the farms of the deep South to rent rooms in her boarding house. She made sure they ate well. She sat them down at the kitchen table and talked to them about jobs and saving money with the goal of buying their own homes. She inspired many young people who became real estate owners of several properties.
Reflecting on Aunt Jane’s life reminds me of two fundamental principles. First, to truly live a full life you must take action – moving from the intellectual realm (i.e., thinking about life and what you might do) to the experiential (i.e., actually doing it). I have my share of education – Wellesley College, Harvard Business School, doctoral studies in World Religions – but I have to say that my greatest learning has come from being an entrepreneur. Getting my hands dirty and making missteps along the way, has been much more valuable than many of the books I read. The surest way to grow is to take action and gain life experience. Second, it is important to use your life experience to help others. Aunt Jane did not allow the fact that she had little formal education get in the way of her innate greatness. She achieved much and lived a very meaningful life. As ancient wisdom tells us, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others.” In addition to passing on the entrepreneurial spirit to her family, she was free in sharing her life lessons with anyone who came across her path. Her spirit touched many and her life is a testament to the value of experience.
Sometimes we try to sweep certain events under the rug. We lament and ask, “Why did that happen to me?” As Oscar Wilde said, “To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.” Every experience matters. It may be the value you created at work or the people you touched at home. It may be a transformation – of coming through something challenging and being able to finally smile on the other side. The “experience card” is made up of the good and the not-so-good. It’s easy to feel confident and self-reliant when things are going fine. The true test comes when times get tough. Doubt may creep in and depress your enthusiasm and cloud your vision. That’s when you take a step back and look at what you have given to life and what you have learned – keeping in mind that you are more than your current circumstances. You are the totality of your experiences. As my mom says, “Remember who you are;” and I would add, “Embrace who you are becoming.”
Life is really one big experiment. Mahatma Gandhi lived in this way. In his autobiography he talks about his “experiments with truth.” He experimented, as a scientist might, by constantly exploring new ideas and ways of living to test and mold his own character. Many people know about his work in the communal, educational, and political realms. However, what some people may not realize is that these were closely linked to his efforts at personal change – from exploring different diets to the evolution of the relationship with his wife. He believed that all people can shape and guide their lives according to the highest ideals, no matter how insignificant and powerless they might feel themselves to be. He understood that your decisions on how to live matter and you have the power to make those decisions conform to what you believe is right. As always, it comes down to the Power of Choice. Today, choose to step out of your comfort zone and investigate life. Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to for awhile or someone you just met. Face challenges head-on. Become a mentor. Pick up a new hobby or skill. As Aristotle said, “One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.” Now is the time to experiment and experience!
Today, I embrace life.
I look forward to each moment and the learning it gives me. It take action every day toward my life vision. I seek growth through experience. Understanding that I am a unique being, I share my life’s insights and training with others. I am proud of who I am and who I am becoming.
Today, I embrace life.
Copyright Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy. Power Living® Column Vol. 17.09, originally published April 2005; revised August 2009. Teresa Kennedy has written over 70 “The Power of…” columns that are a part of the Power Living® Empowerment Series and available for syndication. Call 212-901-6913 for more information.
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