Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Encounter with Experience

His [George Washington] skills as a surveyor did not go unnoticed by William Fairfax, who dispatched the teenager to the frontier to chart the lands Fairfax was selling to settlers. George's encounter with the frontier shaped him profoundly. In the first place his treks through the wilderness toughened him physically, until he could endure almost any trial brought by terrain or weather. Making his way on foot through the Pennsylvania woods in winter, he journeyed through snow for a week, then tumbled from a raft into an icy river. From all this he emerged intact, whereas his companion came down with frostbite.
Henry Wiencek, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 60.
Experience is the greatest teacher. It prepares people in ways that no teacher, book, or information source can. Washington was prepared for his future by his experience as a youth. His time spent surveying in the bitter cold helped prepare him for battle during the French & Indian War as well as the American Revolution (think Valley Forge). He was toughened, shaped, and developed by his time on the frontier. Without that experience, it is hard to tell if Washington would have been the man he needed to be later in life.

A lot of times experience is not the most fun. I would rather avoid the times in my life that I feel uncomfortable, upset, frustrated, in pain, or simply waiting for something to happen. Yet it is in my experiences that I have the greatest potential to learn. If I allow myself to be profoundly shaped by them - I will have the greatest chance at contributing great things in the future. Too often I find myself complaining about what I am going through instead of recognizing the great potential of my trials & experiences. I can either use them to learn, grow, and develop OR I can become jaded and cynical about them. Either way I will be shaped for my future. The question thus becomes which of those options is the better one.