Experience. Strange, I don’t find we talk about experience much. We talk about skills. We talk about courses taken and education. We talk about a lot of things. Somehow we’ve forgotten about experience.
When I wanted to grow as a person, my instinct was to learn. That sounds right to you, right? Makes sense. I wanted to learn about game development on Udemy using the game engine Unity3D. I thought, naturally so, that to become more than I am, to become a game developer who can express himself creatively through game design, I need to acquire the ability to develop games, so I’m gonna take an online course and learn.
But that was wrong.
Well, it was right in some ways. But not the way I needed it to be right. I didn’t need to learn, so much as I needed to gain experience. A game developer makes games. If I’ve never made a game in my life, I’m not a game developer. No matter how skilled and capable I am at using the Unity engine, I didn’t make games. I started games, but finished none of them. Published none of them. Shared none of them. No one played any of them. So I didn’t gain the experience relevant to being a game developer.
Same thing with being a YouTuber. No matter how much effort I put into a video, unless I actually publish videos in quantity, I won’t acquire the ability to produce videos.
You don’t grow from learning, you grow from experience. You learn from experience. But growth comes from experience, not learning. We all know this already. You’re useless after graduating university (sort of, I’m being hyperbolic here). You only gain any sense of skill after experience in the workplace (the “real world”, it’s called that for a reason.) Even though you spent years learning, the average university graduate had spent a total of zero seconds gaining relevant experience. So even with all the knowledge acquired, you’re basically a baby when you first get hired haha. You’re the right kind of baby, having graduated from a relevant field, but still a baby.
We get too stuck in our minds on being associated with a quality product, that we forget to focus on acquiring the ability to create a quality product.
Lest we forget: To create a quality product, you must be able to create a product.
I know I repeated myself, I just wanted to use the phrase “lest we forget”, it sounds so dramatic haha.
This is intimately associated with another thing that seems to me to behave similarly: How we heal.
The perfect example of this is phobias. So I have arachnophobia, which is the fear of arachnids. Arachnids are abominations that should be burned alive immediately such as roaches, spiders, beetles, and other hellspawn.
Because I’m a curious little fella, I decided to apply what is called Exposure Therapy on my phobias. Which means to gradually expose myself to the thing that I am irrationally fearful of. What I started doing was whenever I saw a roach, and I had some free time and felt safe in the environment, I would just look at it from a safe distance. I just keep my gaze at it. Usually I just wanna run away from it immediately, and run so far that it can never get close to me. I’d be sure to keep several doors between me and this little crawly demon. Instead, I logically understand it can’t hurt me. Or at least I know it usually doesn’t. So I know I’m perfectly safe. So I stand there, from a safe distance, and just look at it. I get so terrified, I start to sweat, shake, and my nerves are on fire 🔥. It’s an extremely difficult thing to experience. I used to manage that for only a few seconds, then run away to safety.
The more I did this, the longer I lasted. And the more I did this and lasted longer, the more frequently I could do it and stand their presence. So much so that now, while I’m still not ok with them anywhere near me or my planet, I have an extra second to think and breathe before I react. If I keep doing this, eventually I’ll feel completely relaxed in their presence. This is called Exposure Therapy.
I believe that with this approach to anything you have irrational emotions attached to, any kind of past trauma, fear, anxiety, etc your emotions will dial down and you can be healed from the hurt.
For example, with social anxiety, you can expose yourself to social situation you feel unsafe in. There’s one caveat with these though. With the roach example I gave, the physical presence of the thing I was scared of made my job easier. I just had to not run away and look at it for a second. But with an invisible fear like social anxiety, you need to do the extra step of allowing yourself to feel vulnerable internally. So it’s not enough you just be in a social situation that makes you anxious. You also need to recognize that your mind is trying to find ways to respond to the fear. Instead, simply be in the presence of the fear, and feel the fear staring back at you.
Now this is terrifying to do. Seriously scary. I know this works, I still don’t do it 99% of the time. And I totally recognize I should do this more. It is a goal of mine that I have now. I do it in meditation where I can “expose” myself to internal fears, which feel external to me. So the fear is within me, but I connect with it and feel it by thinking about things on the outside, like social plans, or long-term goals, or business-y things, or relationship-y things. But the fear itself is within me. There’s nothing going on outside me, I’m just sitting alone in a safe room.
Can you see how this relates to the topic of experience earlier?
Experience is exposure to the final thing. In the example of game development, you can think of learning to build games, before publishing my first game, as preparation for the experience of publishing the first game. All that preparation is for publishing the first game. It’s like you wanna go swimming. But before you jump in, you do some preparation. You buy gear and learn some basics before jumping in to learn. But the actual learning comes from the experience of the first swim, and subsequent swims after that.
As much as you prepare, you have to eventually expose yourself to the water.
It’s when you are exposed to that reality that you learn. It’s when you expose yourself to your emotions that you heal.