You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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All Experiences Are Good

Some people look at an experience and say, 'I had it bad.' I say it wasn't a bad experience unless it happens to you again. If it doesn't happen to you again, then you've learned from your experience, and that's what makes it a good experience.

That's how you grow as a person. Every experience shapes who you are. You can choose to learn from an experience, or you can choose to ignore it and hope it doesn't come back. You have to ask yourself, 'Do I really want to go through that mess again?' And if the answer is no, then use that experience to grow. Ask yourself how you would do things differently the next time and who else you can help to make sure they don't go through it, either.

Here's an example: People get pulled over by the police all the time for drunk driving. Everybody knows you shouldn't drink and drive. You know this. You swear every time you hear a story about someone who was so foolish as to drink a bunch of margaritas or mai tais or whatever and then try to drive home. Maybe he hits another car; maybe he kills someone. Maybe he kills himself.

'That's awful,' you say. 'How can people not know that drinking and driving can be deadly?' You chastise those people; maybe you even join MADD to support the cause. But then one night, you find yourself in a situation where you've had a few drinks and now you're driving home. And you swerve and the police see you swerve, and now you're being pulled over and they're making you stand on one leg and touch your nose and you can't do that. So they handcuff you and take you to the station, and you're fingerprinted and your mug shot is taken, and they throw you into a cell until a judge releases you.

Okay, it's a bad night. It's a horrible night. What you did could have had horrible consequences. Thank God you didn't hit anybody or anything, and your trauma is simply having been held overnight in a rank jail cell with a bunch of other drunk drivers.

You say it's the worst experience of your life, you anguish about it, you cry. You are embarrassed, humiliated, and angry at yourself. But it really is the worst experience of your life only if you do it again, because then you haven't learned a thing. Your anguish and the long night in jail taught you nothing. Only if you never drink another drop of alcohol before getting behind the wheel can you make this into a good experience. And if you can do that, then getting caught in the first place was a good experience. You learned something about how your beliefs didn't match your actions and about the effect alcohol has on your ability to make a good decision. Knowing this can only help you down the road when you make other decisions involving critical issues.

There is a lesson to be learned from every experience you have. You're driving down the road with your daughter and the radio station plays a Beatles song you both love, and you both start singing at the top of your lungs. Bad singing. Screechingly bad singing. But you're smiling and laughing, and you realize how much you enjoy being with your daughter. You realize you haven't been doing enough of that lately, and you vow to do it more. That's a good lesson from a good experience. It's something to build on.

Your son gets a letter from the college he's heading off to attend in the fall, and in it, a student ambassador describes what college life is like at that university. It details how it will be the best experience of his life, and he immediately gets excited about going there next fall. He says he can't wait. Then he hands the letter to you and walks into the kitchen. You read it, you see all the wonderful things that are about to happen to him, all the great experiences that are in front of him, and you begin to cry. What's the lesson? Are you sad because he's leaving? Sure. Are you sad because he's going to be doing all those things and you won't be around to watch? Of course. But if you look at why you're crying long enough, you'll come to understand that your tears are largely because you're just as excited for your son as he is. You're excited that he is going to get that opportunity to do something really special. Examining why something initially feels like a bad experience can ultimately lead to making it good. Crying over a letter can become a good experience that will shape your thinking as he moves toward that big day of leaving home.

Even in football, the bad can become the good. I had a player once who had a hard time holding onto the ball. Fumbling is one of the worst things a running back can do. This player ran hard and fast, but he just couldn't hang on to the ball-even when he wasn't hit. I finally pulled him aside one day and said, 'Son, how do you feel when you fumble the ball?'

He says, 'Oh, man, coach, I feel terrible. I feel like someone has just punched me in the gut. It's the worst.'

'It feels that bad, huh?'

'Oh yeah, coach. It makes me sick. I go home and I don't sleep.'

'So don't fumble,' I tell him. 'Turn fumbling the ball into a good experience by figuring out a way not to fumble. Get it out of your mind, for one thing. Don't sit there and torture yourself all night long, because all that's doing is focusing on how bad you feel. Next time you fumble, forget about it the second after. See what happens.'

The kid was a little confused, but I asked him to try it. Next game, sure enough, first quarter, he fumbles the ball. I look over at him and say, 'Forget it. Let it go.'

He didn't fumble again for six weeks. He turned fumbling into a good experience by adjusting his thought process to eliminate equating fumbling with something bad. Bad things don't have to be the same as a bad experience.

You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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