Learning from the Past
Some of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned were brought to me by the various relationships I’ve had…romantic relationships, friendships, relationships with family, relationships with colleagues. Because you see, MOST of our lives are spent in communion with others in some way. And whether we realize it in the moment or not, virtually every relationship we have teaches us something, not just about others but about ourselves. For example, those struggles with a “difficult” colleague may teach us patience, understanding, and empathy. Who we find ourselves connecting with romantically may teach us about what we value most in ourselves and others…and how to love and be loved. And I think that often we think of life’s lessons as learning from our pain, hurt, and challenges. But I would argue that joy, warmth, and success can teach us just as much. The key is in learning how to see the lessons in all experiences, both positive and negative.
And while I am ALL ABOUT learning from our experiences, I think there can be a downside to wanting to learn from our negative experiences with others. Particularly in romantic relationships, I often see women who seek to grow from things not working out. In theory, this is great…but in practice, it often relies heavily on the OTHER person’s participation, and that can be a recipe for failure. You see, we put a lot of stock into OTHER people’s actions…what they did or didn’t do, why they made the choices they did, etc. And the reason we do this? Because we think that if we can unravel the mystery then we can better understand things. The problem is, we don’t always have access to that information, that person, etc. to explore it. So what many of us do is focus on how to change that (trying to talk to the person and get more information, figure out why they left, understand their choices, etc.) when instead our energy would be better spent elsewhere. Because you see, we don’t actually NEED all of the information and insight that exists in the world in order to learn from a situation; we just need to be present and have a willingness to explore our lived experience. And if it sounds simple, that’s because IT IS! We don’t have to overcomplicate our experience with anyone else’s thoughts, feelings, or experiences. Instead, if we just trust ourselves to seek and find the lessons we need, then I believe we’ll be much better off!
So how might we start doing that? A good place to begin is simply to ask! Maybe that looks like taking a step back in a time of struggle to ask yourself “What can I learn from this?” Or maybe it’s including a moment during life’s joys and celebrations to ponder “What is this helping me to understand about myself?” Or maybe it’s taking a moment at the end of the day, whether silently, aloud, or in writing to reflect on the question “What did the events of today teach me?” While these all seem like simple things, they can be a powerful start to learning how to reflect on our lived experience…and using the knowledge we gain to grow wiser about who we are and how we show up in the world.
But while our experiences with others, both the positive and the negative, can present wonderful opportunities for growth, I want to make one thing clear. We have SO many beautiful opportunities for learning and growth in our lives. Because of that, it is important that we remember not to give any one experience or any one relationship the power to outshine all the others. Especially in cases where we have experienced relational challenges, it can be tempting to get stuck there, giving it far more emphasis than is needed. But at the end of the day, the best way to learn from our difficulties is to find the lesson and then MOVE ON. Because at the end of the day, it is the APPLICATION of the lessons learned on our future choices that matters most.