One of the advertised advantages of middle age is the fact that you have been around long enough to accumulate the necessary experience to give you a leg up in both your personal and work lives. The question is, is all this experience benefiting you, or has it become baggage. Is your experience, and your reliance on it, become the thing that’s holding you back.
Experience as tools
I vividly remember buying my first tools in my mid-twenties. I still have the first hammer I ever bought . The hammer was great for driving nails but then came the inevitable screw. Screws come in all shapes and sizes so my first screwdriver was one that came with assorted tips. Then came a hand saw, a chisel, then at long last a power saw. Its several decades later and I recently built an oversized, over-height garage that was built almost exclusively to hold an enormous collection of tools. At last count I have 15 saws, 11 different hammers (who knew), and about 120 screwdrivers. Over 600 tools in all. The right tool for the right job.
I have all the basic tools, a lot of specialty tools, too many power tools, even older redundant tools that I have a sentimental attachment to. I even have antique tools (where does one use an egg-beater hand drill in the 21st century). I have watch repair tools from my temporary passion for watch hoarding. I’m sure by now you get the point.
I often get approached by my neighbors and adult children to borrow tools as they are all in their twenties and haven’t accumulated a lot of tools yet.
Cleaning Out the Garage
So how does this lifelong fascination with tools relate to the topic of experience. Your experiences fall into several categories, basic experience (the hammer), specialty experience (power tools), and redundant experience (the flat head screwdriver).
We all started out in the working world accumulating a core set of basic experience; show up on time, work late, report writing, etc. I equate these experiences to the hammer, the screwdriver, and the tape measure. These are the skills and experiences we needed to be functional in our chosen careers.
We then started getting experience directly related to our chosen field. These are the power tools. We could do things faster with less effort just like when I replaced my good old hand saw with my circular saw. I took a while before I could cut straight and stop counting my fingers after, but I got there. A “power skill” is a great thing if it’s used correctly.
The best parallel I can draw to a redundant experience is a flat head screwdriver. I have 16 of them. Unless you are repairing antiques or using it like a small crowbar there isn’t much practical application for a flat head in the year 2016. I keep most of them around because I just can’t bear to throw out a tool. Redundant experiences are the ones you keep around because you’ve had them a long time. The danger is that because they have worked for you for so long you will reach for them when you don’t have the right tool handy.
A year ago I embarked on a new career as a business coach. The change forced me to inventory my skills, throw away the dated/redundant ones, and learn a veritable ton of new ones. I found numerous experiences that had become crutches (excuses) for me not to try new things. I also found a frightening number of gaps between what I had and what was required in the “not so new” millennium. It was both a stressful and liberating process.
I now spend my work life, and large portion of my personal life, helping others learn how business works. I held them grow and achieve things they never dreamed possible. I get to share my experience and accumulate new learnings at the same time. If I could afford it I would do this for free.
I encourage everyone to make a habit of inventorying their experiences, throwing away those they don’t need anymore, and most importantly go get some new ones. It’s an uncomfortable journey but the end is both exhilarating and empowering.
PS – If you aren’t into tools feel free to substitute shoes, but that’s a separate article.