Learn, Baby, Learn
I was on the yard today simply enjoying the 75-degree weather. I’d taken a seat on one of the metal benches located on the inner edge of the track when a guy walked up to me, took it upon himself to sit down and start chatting. Now, I’m one of those people who thoroughly enjoys his solitude, so I’d be disingenuous if I said I wasn’t somewhat annoyed by his presence, but I was not going to be rude.
I’ve known the man for a while and assumed he wanted to talk about something in particular, so I greeted him, “What’s up?” He responded, “Ah, not too much, man; I just got done running and thought I’d see what was up with you.” At this point I’m feeling myself become slightly perturbed because if there’s nothing pressing he needed to talk about, I could be enjoying my alone time, but I didn’t let him sense these selfish thoughts. Instead, I allowed him to continue and he told me, “Yeah, I’m going to turn forty-eight tomorrow, man.” Now more engaged by this revelation, I said, “Oh yeah, and how does that feel?” Initially I could sense he was mildly perplexed at my inquiry and stumbled for a satisfactory answer, so he began, “Um, well, I guess I feel alright. I just ran a couple . . . ” and I instinctually (and rudely if I’m being honest) cut him off and probed: “No, I mean how do you feel about your life at forty-eight?” Realizing this would require some thought, he paused for a few seconds and stared distantly to figure out how he was going to articulate his thoughts, then he responded, “Well, to be honest, I feel like I’ve wasted so much of my life.”
This man went on to lament the things he’s done wrong in his life and tally how much they’ve cost him. He highlighted some positive things he’s done as well but spent much more time focusing on the negative consequences of his actions throughout his life. When he got done speaking, I offered him one phrase only: “It’s only a complete waste if you’ve learned nothing from them.”
In my humble opinion, too often and too easily we find ourselves bemoaning our losses, failures, and the litany of mistakes we’ve made. But what good does this do? If we are fixated on the hardship of an adverse situation and its challenging consequences, we will miss the invaluable learning lessons that are embedded. In fact, I would comfortably venture to say that life’s most valuable lessons, wisdoms, and insights are derived from life’s most arduous circumstances, its most trying times. But how can you see them if all you can muster in the midst of struggles, are complaints?
When I came to prison over 14 years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to get me to admit there was anything good that could come from this dreadful existence. I could not have conjured one thing that I could learn from this situation that I didn’t already know — or so I thought. Yet, here I am over 14 years later and can say I have evolved into the best version of myself possible — not despite this situation but because of it.
Sure, I could sit here feeling sorry for myself for 17 1/2 years, or I could choose to make the most of it. In choosing the latter I have learned what I’m passionate about, what life’s greatest joys are, where I derive fulfillment, what I want to do to maximize my potential in the future, why I lived the life I did, and so much more. Most importantly, I have learned what I’m capable of enduring. I now know I can take life’s most potent blow and still stand. Knowing this, there is nothing life can throw at me to shake me, discourage me, defeat me.
I believe there is always something to be learned from our mistakes and regrets. For instance, when we come out of a relationship that continued longer than it should have, we typically sulk for a while and spend countless hours hating our ex or badgering ourselves for allowing it to go on for as long as it did. But hopefully after all the wasted time and energy (that’s really what it is), we can take valuable lessons from it. We should come away knowing what we want and don’t want in a relationship, where boundaries need to be set, and be more perceptive of what others show us going forward so we can detect and address issues before it’s too deep into the relationship. There are indeed many things we should learn from even the most piercing heartaches we suffer — but we have to be willing and open to do so.
Again, if all we do is gripe over how our life has not gone the way we would have liked, we rob ourselves of unique opportunities to learn and grow in substantial, life-changing ways. We can therefore either go through life complaining and wasting time, or we can learn, grow, and become better people for having gone through them and come out wiser and stronger on the other end.
In 2013 Martin L. Lockett published his memoir, Palpable Irony: Losing my freedom to find my purpose, and more recently his second book, My Prison Life, a Blogger’s Insights from the Inside. During his incarceration, he has earned a Certificate of Human Services from Louisiana State University, AA from Indiana University, BS in Sociology from Colorado State University – Pueblo, and an MS in Psychology from California Coast University. He continues to tutor in the GED program at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem, Oregon, and co-facilitates an impaired driver victims impact panel. He aspires to counsel adolescents who struggle with substance abuse.