Prisons of Experience

There are a number of ways to learn. We can go to school. We can receive instruction from a teacher who is willing to work with us one on one. We can do self-study. And last but not least, we can learn through experience.

Great value is placed on experience. And, no doubt, experience is critical in developing mastery in a particular field. Without experience it is impossible to see the application of our thinking, knowledge and ability firsthand. However, as important as experience is, it does come with limitations.

Some individuals, with ample experience, begin to think they know everything about a field. Often, they suffer from an internal dialogue that goes something like this, “I’ve been doing this for over twenty years. I’ve seen it all. I know.” The moment we think we know everything about a topic is the moment we begin to let our knowledge and abilities go into decline.

The body of human knowledge is a work in progress. Technology advances. Medicine marches forward. Discoveries are constantly being made. If we think we know everything based on our experience, we shut ourselves off to what is being learned collectively. Individual experience cannot trump collective experience.

What I have referred to above is experience within the context of a given field. There is, of course, more general experience, experience in life itself. Here things get even trickier. At least, specialized experience carries with it the benefit of having a focus. Life experience, by its nature, is more diffuse. It covers everything.

The longer we live, the more life experience we have. But this life experience is limited. For example, if we have had romantic relationships with three people, does it make us an expert on relationships? If we visited Europe twice, are we authorities on Europe? If we took a cooking course does it make us world class chefs?

We have a tendency to romanticize our level of life knowledge. This can lead us to live in prisons of experience. What is the antidote to this? We must realize that whatever we have learned and experienced are simply steps in learning and experiencing more. Experience should never be taken as an endpoint. Experience is a never ending stream.

Image courtesy of [graur codrin] /

*Authors note: You might see this column pop up online in a newspaper, under the name Both Sides. I am publishing this column here first at For a bunch of years, I have been writing newspaper columns. Since my columns have received a good response on CYInterview, I thought I would share it with you. Hope you enjoy.

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