Learning from the Past

I am a firm believer that the best learning we have in our life comes from experience.  I first learned about the value of experience through a series of workshop experiences I encountered through the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and this knowledge has helped me put a context on many of the experiences I have had to use them for my best development.

with mom_dad at annapolis

This thought came back to me quite vividly this past weekend as I reminisced with many of my high school classmates (I use the word “old” sparingly these day, experienced is better).  Reflecting back to 1977 puts many thoughts into mind about how experience has shaped me to the person I am today.  Here are a few quick thoughts to get the ball rolling:

  • In high school I thought I would be in a science career the rest of my life
  • My original college choice took me to Annapolis to the United States Naval Academy.  This was a quick (one month) experience, but the effects have been life-long, mostly positive.
  • My most significant career change got started through a volunteer opportunity in 1990.  Much of this has been described in other posts here, but the power of volunteer stints is significant

Let’s start with the science career thought.  One class in high school, maybe two, directed me squarely down a science path for my original degree (Engineering Physics).  These high school classes were Physical Science and Physics.  Physical Science was a freshman class that I enjoyed, but my junior year was eye opening when I took my first Physics class.  This class opened the door to my college degree path and also helped me more fully understand what I was skilled in and also what I enjoyed doing.  Some of you who read this may never have known about my interest and love of Physics.  Go figure…

While most of my high school friends were considering traditional college choices I got the service academy mindset and pursued an appointment at Annapolis in parallel with a Naval ROTC scholarship to the University of Illinois.  I received both and chose to go the less traveled route, the one to the banks of the Severn River in Annapolis.  While this was a short stop from a time perspective, I learned many things from the experience.  Here are just a few of those learnings:

  • Look before you leap-There was no “Summer Seminar” for rising HS seniors back then and I had never visited the Yard prior to I-Day.
  • Prepare mentally and physically.  The physical part was not that bad, but the mental part threw me for a loop.  I had never spent much time away from home and this was a totally new experience for me.  This learning greatly influenced what our two sons were exposed to during their formative years, especially through Scouting.

While some people would look at my short stint as a failure, I see it as a life changing event that has directed most of my decisions since then.  The two points above have played out over and over in most every choice I have made and I could not be the person I am today without that experience, that “failure” in my early years.

My life was also changed forever when I got involved as a volunteer with the YMCA and a local chamber of commerce in the 1990’s.  I have written many times about the power of volunteering and I will write even more in my upcoming book, Voluntary Leadership.   Many of my recent posts have described this episode and the book will also talk about the personal experiences of many others I have come to know over the years.

Life is a great classroom if you choose to pay attention.  Much of what we learn can be painful at first, but always take the time to reflect about what you are doing and where you have been.

Trust me, you are learning every day if you just take the time to reflect and enjoy the journey.

Stop and see; you will be glad you did.