What’s your learning style? Do you prefer learning in a group and in an interactive setting? Or one-on-one? Do you retain information best through lectures, or visuals, or simply by reading books?

At this stage in my life a lot of the things I learn are practical skills rather than simple knowledge. I think the trick to practical skills is in the name – practice.

It’s a bit like learning to play the piano. Someone can tell you what the notes on the sheet music mean and which key they correspond to, but until you actually start pressing the keys and moving your fingers you can’t say that you can play the piano.

No-one is ever as good as they can be. We’re all learning and experiencing new things. After writing about not seeing opportunity in Sink or Swim I’ve been thinking a lot about experience – how to gain it and how to use it.

Google says that experience is “practical contact with and observation of facts or events” and “an event or occurrence which leaves an impression on someone”.

The common conception about experience is that you gain it by doing stuff, as indicated by the use of “event” in the definitions. I think many people see the stuff as having to travel, jump out of planes, eat kangaroo eyes etc. They view the experience as positively doing something, and pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone. I would, of course, largely agree, but there’s an interesting other way of looking at that.

For a while I didn’t like going on holiday. I would get up at 3am every Monday morning and I would travel to another country for 4 or 5 days for work. I would get home late on a Thursday or Friday evening. I had missed 4 or 5 days and nights of opportunity at home while gaining experience elsewhere. When I got back home, I was happy to be here. Travel was my bread and butter, stasis my jaffa cake. I felt that I gained more experience by staying at home, learning things from what was on my doorstep, because travelling all the time and seeing other places and people was my comfort zone but the opportunities of building things at home scared the crap out of me.

Things get comfortable by repetition. I’m confident of being able to drive to the supermarket without getting lost because I drive past it around 10 times a week. I’m not confident of being able to drive to my cousin’s house in Hampshire because I’ve never been and don’t know where it is.

The point I’m trying to make is similar to Friday 13th Syndrome. Some believe in the superstition of the date and believe that bad things will happen if they go out the house. They stay in, a storm builds up and blows the chimney through the roof on to where they are.

The world doesn’t stop just because we’re somewhere else. There’s experience to be gained everywhere.

I also wonder if experience can actually belittle the grandeur of an event. Let’s take two examples. First up, we’re going to compare the couple who don’t believe in sex before marriage against the person who wants to have the best sex ever on their wedding night. The first couple will probably have the least successful sex ever, but it will be the best they’ve ever had at that point.

The second couple will have regular sex during their courtship, learning what each other likes and what they don’t and what each of them are good at and having a great deal of fun along the way. They get married, go to their reception, propose far too many toasts and stumble up to their suite. They collapse on their bed but this is what they’ve been building up to so they fumble around and “get the job done”.

The least experienced couple have perfect sex. The other don’t.

I really want to go to New York at Christmas. I don’t want to go on my own and I don’t want to stay in a hostel because it’s the most cost effective way. I could do that many times and learn everything there is to know about the city. But I want to go with someone special and important, and I want to stay close to Times Square in a nice hotel. I might miss the best back alley cafe in the city but I’ll be able to go ice skating and to the toy shop from Home Alone and to the top of the Empire State all with my favourite person.

My first experience will be my best experience despite its imperfection.  It’s all about picking your times.

But then once you have the experience, how do you use it? Unfortunately at the moment I wish I had the experience before things had happened, so I could make them better.

Well maybe I’m blind, just throwing darts in the dark.
I didn’t get what I want, I got what I need.
Man, it hurts like hell down here on my knees.
Is this where I end, or is this where we begin?

Near Life Experience by Lifehouse

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