The Greatest Teacher in Life

Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood

Ralph Waldo Emerson

​Sometimes the disappointments you encounter can become your greatest learning moments. Whereas it’s natural to feel upset, disappointed, and even devastated when things don’t happen as you had hoped, at some point you’ll need to face those feelings. You can let them consume you, or you can choose to look at the silver linings. I have used this skill in my life, and I hope to teach my children to do the same. A recent experience with my oldest son reminded me of life’s greatest teacher.

Several weeks ago I watched my son’s junior football team play their league championship game.  They had enjoyed a very successful season being undefeated up to that point. Almost all ball carriers from their starting offence had scored a touchdown and the defense had shut out four of the six teams they played during the season, including their opponent for the finals. My son’s team had never been behind and the final game was no different. They got an early lead and held it – until, with under three minutes left to the end of the game, their opposition kicked a field goal to draw even.  The game went to overtime where nerves were evident on both sides and no one scored on their first possession, so the game remained tied.  The second possession saw their opponents score a touchdown to take the lead, leaving my son’s team with one chance to try to tie the game.  This was the first time all season that his team had trailed and it was the most crucial point.

My son and his teammates were devastated when they were stopped on their final try.  They were the favorites and had completely expected to win the game.  Without facing much adversity all season, it seemed as if falling behind had become a mountain too tall to climb.  Their body language showed a lack of belief in their own abilities to come back and win, while their opponents appeared energized with growing confidence.  As a team, they had passed all their tests with flying colors up to this point, but this was a new test they had not yet faced – a challenge to their belief and confidence.

My son’s team had to come to terms with a result that didn’t match up with their expectations, and as 14 and 15-year-olds this was a tough pill to swallow.  Even as a 38-year-old father it was a tough pill to swallow.  Whereas we experience disappointment when things don’t turn out the way we had hoped, there is always a silver lining. Disappointment or suffering provide an amazing opportunity to learn something.  Something deeper, something beautiful, something that we previously didn’t know about ourselves.  In our society we use some expressions to describe this opportunity, such as: “show us what we’re made of,” “find our breaking point,” or “test our mettle.”  If we allow them, these crucible moments all lead us back to the same beautiful outcome… self-discovery.

Life provides some experiences that don’t seem very pleasant at the time, yet become our greatest teachers. These moments become watersheds for so many other successes we experience afterwards.  They are the times that years later we can look back upon and say “wow” -those lessons have shaped and molded who I am.  Sometimes these moments are seen only as miserable and tough experiences.  However, often after years and years of pondering a lesson, learning or an epiphany rises to the surface and becomes a guiding principle in our life. 

My son has now had the experience of coming out on the short end of a hard-fought championship game – a game they had expected to win. What he takes from this experience will be up to him – the lessons he learns will depend on how and when he chooses to reflect on what happened.  So far, it has been a beautiful experience as his father to watch him and listen to him describe his different emotions and realizations so far.  I’m excited to watch as he builds on this, and perhaps many years down the road it could turn into one of those cherished watershed moments for him.

Have you ever reflected on what seemingly bad experiences in life have taught you? I invite you to journal your thoughts and insights around the following questions:

  1. What experiences have taught you the most or shaped who you are?
    1. What was it about them that influenced you?
    2. What type of principles do you live by now, after these experiences?
    3. How do these principles influence your choices?

Thank you for reading.  Please share some of your insights as well as the tools you use to reflect and learn from your life experiences.

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