By Will Mancini
Once you truly have the courage to know yourself, every experience becomes a gift. Everything speaks. Your successes develop your confidence and your failures deepen your convictions. As it’s said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Please note that experience is not the best teacher; evaluated experience is. (If experience by itself was the best teacher, we would all be equally wise.)
The key is to refuse to let your work experiences go by unexamined. With the simple commitment of reflecting on seasons of your work past and present, each month of your life becomes a step on a ladder, taking you up, up, up to a clearer vantage point.
There’s good news and bad news in this. The bad news is that you can’t microwave the process. You don’t get break-thru in the drive-thru.
Finding your groove takes time—as in, years or decades. “Experience to grow” asks us to embrace experimentation with how we use our time. Do you work better with people, things, or ideas?
Do you excel at persuasion, painting, or planning? Do you prefer quiet one-on-one settings or highly charged team dynamics? Do it and you will know. There is no shortcut around the time it will take to find out.
Now for the good news: the longer you have lived and worked, the more experience you have to revisit and evaluate. And even better: you can benefit from your bad experiences as much as the good ones.
How so? Work tasks that you hated bring great clarity—it’s clear that you weren’t standing in your sweet spot while doing them.
So don’t worry about that job that grew tired or that boss that got you fired. Pay close attention and you’ll find the work that keeps you wired.
The great thing about experience is that it just keeps coming, which means that as long as you evaluate it, you keep growing. This runs counter to the discouraging mental model that contemporary Americans have of how life works.
Biologically, most human functions peak in people’s early 20s. However, at age 40 we still retain most of our youthful vigor but have gained a great deal of wisdom and skill through experience.
Unless you’re a professional athlete, age 40 might be your performance peak. But then we face a crisis.
Our physical strength, stamina, health, and looks are going to continue to deteriorate. We have a shrinking number of days in this body before us—soon fewer than the days behind us.
Are we where we thought we’d be by now? Is there any reason to dream anymore, or is this all there is? In our youth-enamored culture, is it all downhill from here?
Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t view the trajectory of a person’s life as a ballistic arc to a pathetic crash.
Rather, Psalm 92 promises, “The righteous thrive like a palm tree and grow like a cedar tree in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they thrive in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, healthy and green” (vv. 12–14, emphasis added).
Picture life not as an arc or a bell curve but as a series of rising stairsteps.
At about age 20 you reach a crisis about what to do with your life, about whether to live for spinning-in-place pleasures for yourself or whether to accept the challenge of being responsible to others on the adventure of life.
Some people don’t pass that test; their impact plateaus or declines. Yet others overcome and move on to the midlife crisis of whether to pursue their calling or play it safe. Again, some stay stuck, but others navigate it and move up higher.
At around age 60 people face one more crisis, this one having to do with their remaining years.
It’s about whether their productivity is based on their activity or on their generativity—that is, how they’re preparing the next generation to carry on their legacy.
The brilliant truth is that those who overcome this crisis impact more just as they begin to work less.
They “bear fruit in old age, healthy and green” in the form of the work being done by all those they have nurtured and guided over time.
Their impact in retirement and even after death becomes greater than in all their working years. Peak performance may be long gone, but peak impact is one step away.
At each stage, the watershed difference between expanding impact and shrinking impact is whether you seize the opportunities to grow from your experiences.
You get the opportunity each day to practice the trial-and-error lifestyle and learn along the way. And you get the opportunity at the three big checkpoints to gain insight from your journey and design your life afresh.
Will you see increased life contribution through each stage of your life from your “experience to grow?”
WILL MANCINI (@willmancini) is the founder of Auxano, an organization that partners with ministry leaders and churches to assist in visionary planning. He’s the author of several books including Younique: Designing the Life that God Dreamed for You, from which this article was excerpted by permission from B&H Publishing Group.