Learning the Lessons of Life


Thomas Carlyle was one of the great Victorian philosophers, historians, teachers and authors. He was an enormously gifted, insightful individual. I have been familar with Carlyle, I had heard some of his thoughts expressed in quotes, but I had no idea until a few weeks ago - just how much he wrote and how many great insights this man had. I was looking for one of his quotes, and when I searched for it, I found idea after idea after idea. Since then I've picked up a few books by Carlyle.

Well, here is one of those quotes i stumbled across that is "spot on." I want to unpack a few ideas that hit me.

ONE: Life is a series of lessons. Life is a teacher. Life sends things our way that we will experience, but there is reason behind the purpose. Add in the Christian understanding of God who is the sovereign Lord over life, and we understand that God creates a lifetime of experiences that are meant to be a teacher.

TWO: There is a succession to these lessons. All teacher know that some lessons must be learned first, then you can learn other lessons. Some lessons are more foundational than others. They come our way. If you don't learn them, they are going to come your way again... and again... and again, until you do learn them. About the challenging, painful lessons - the sooner you learn them the better.

One of those foundational lessons - "Brian - you are not in control."
Another one, "Brian - you can't do it on your own."
Still another - "Brian - it is not about you."
How about this one? "Brian - failure hurts, but learn from it."
Or this - "Brian - you can't please everyone."
And then - "Brian - it is about the will of God, not your will."
Can you tell that I have had a few F grades in learning these lessons?

THREE: These lessons must be lived. You don't just read about these lessons. You don't even think about them (first). You must live them. Sigh... That is the nature of life. You have to live it. You must experience it. Some things you learn in books, some things in conversations, but MOST of the BEST things, you have to live them. In mentoring younger leaders, there are times when I am literally perplexed. How do you explain the delights and exquisite experience of "good" sushi to someone who only eats fried haddock?!?

How do you explain the grace of God that comes to you when you have utterly come to the "end of your rope," when your best efforts have proven futile, and you haven't come even close to accomplishing what you have dreamed about? How do you "teach that" lesson to a young idealist who thinks she or he is going to "rock the world" with their gifts and brilliance? 

FOUR: Therefore, you need time. That's why you can have a really smart 25 year old person... but a really wise one. They simply do not have enough life. They haven't had enough time to go through enough experiences, to be exposed to enough lessons. And don't think that having had ONE or TWO EXPERIENCES means you have learned the lesson. You've just been introduced to the lesson. You've been made aware of the lesson. Real learning and true wisdom comes from repeated encounters that go ever deeper into your soul and slowly transform who you are.

FINALLY: You must learn to reflect and discern in the moment and after on the experience and the lesson embedded in the experience. Experience is the teacher, but just because life throws a lesson your way, it does not mean you are a good student and an apt learner. That's why you can be a dumb 50 year old. You have 25 years more experience then the young 25 year old, but:

  • You haven't been listening to the lessons.
  • You haven't been paying attention.
  • You haven't been wrestling with the meaning of what has come your way.
  • You haven't learned how to reflect.
  • You haven't been humble, open, teachable, responsive.
  • You have rationalized, justified, shifted blame, been in denial...

I know a 50 year old "person" who has lost at least six jobs in about as many years. And IT IS NEVER HIS OR HER FAULT. !!!!!!!! This person gives new meaning to "slow learner." Actually - they are not a learner at all.

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Okay, that's what I get out of this great quote from Carlyle (pictured to the right)? How about you? How does it help you?

And much more important - what are the current LESSONS LIFE is trying to teach you? What kind of a student are you in that classroom of life?

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International
BrianRice@lcileaders.org

LCI - Here to help you in the Classrooms of Life