We have all heard the saying “Experience is the best teacher.” This can be true, yet sometimes we are able to learn things without having to experience them firsthand. We may learn through observing others, reading a book, or taking a class.
But there is one thing in particular that only experience can teach, and it is something I learned in Haiti five years ago.
In May 2011, I lead a team of volunteers to work in Port-au-Prince, Haiti for a week. We partnered with a local non-profit and assisted them in building cinderblock houses in a community in Port-au-Prince.
Their setup was pretty smart. Since many of the locals did not have jobs, our contacts used this as an opportunity to teach them a trade. One way they achieved this was through separating each part of the house into separate project teams. For example, one group built roofs, while another group laid block. I was assigned to the door team (or the “door assembly operation division” as we called it later in the week).
It was a pretty fascinating job. My dad is a woodworker, so I grew up around wood projects. But this was the first time I was a full-time woodworker. I was paired with a gentleman from our group (a licensed contractor), and another gentleman form Virginia (a retired contractor).
In those few days, I learned a lot about building doors (a skill that has not come in handy since then). To my surprise, though, I observed something that has since impacted my leadership:
Experience informs you how to erase mistakes.
When you are building doors with limited (if any) power tools and wood that may not be straight, you will occasionally have a door that is not quite right. So what do you do? Leaving it crooked is not an option. Instead, you fix it. You make small changes that essentially erase the mistake.
Mistakes are bound to happen, and we are responsible for trying to overcome and erase those mistakes when possible. Occasionally, we will do something that cannot be overcome. This, however, is the exception. Normally, our mistakes can be corrected by making a few adjustments.
As young leaders, it can be difficult for us to correct those mistakes. While we may be passionate and knowledgable, we still lack the experience to help us know how to make appropriate corrections.
But that reality is OK, as long as you do not stay that way. Each time something goes wrong, take a little time to determine what went wrong and how to correct it for the future. By constantly evaluating results, you will begin gaining the knowledge you need to course correct in the future.
And before you know it, no one will know your mistakes ever happened.