We pay a lot of lip service to the idea of learning from failure, but I often see blog posts and open letters written by people that regret prior decisions and mistakes, sending heartfelt letters to their young selves, giving them advice gleaned from years of living.
I’ve written a few of these myself. I lament the things I did and the choices I made, whether it was not talking to that one girl to not trying harder in high school to my choice of a major. If I had just done those things differently, I used to say to myself, everything would have been different.
However, my viewpoint on this topic has shifted.
Because mistakes teach you things that you can’t learn anywhere else.
No matter the context or the profession, experience is important and valuable because, by definition, it cannot be taught. You can read every book and watch every documentary on how to fly a plane or direct a motion picture, but until you’re in the cockpit or the director’s chair, you’ll never truly know what it’s like.
You have to be there. You can’t manufacture or recreate the experience.
Trust me, I know. My weird, quixotic career and odd job history was not the fast track to success and in some ways I’m behind where I quote-unquote ‘should’ be professionally, but it taught me a great deal of things, most of which I would never have learned otherwise.
Besides, sometimes you simply need to find out for yourself.
You tell the kid the stove is hot and the kid touches it anyway, not because the child is being defiant or doesn’t believe you, but because they want to know what you define as hot. How hot? And does it feel if I touch it?
Could you accurately describe to a person what it feels like to fall in love or have your heart broken or have a child or lose a job you love or wake up with no money and no prospects of making more? Even if you put those feelings into words, it’ll never be the same as actually feeling them.
Fuck it, I’d rather find out for myself. And if I fall down or get hurt, so be it. I’ll get up and try again, employing the knowledge I just learned. And one day, I’ll figure it out.
It beats the alternative: sitting safely at home, guarding your money, planning every moment, trying to minimize the potential for anything ever going wrong.
That’s not living. That’s existing. And there’s a big difference between the two.
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, Medium, The Cauldron, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.