Stephen Covey on How Experience is Overrated
Does a lack of experience hold you back? According to Stephen Covey, “experience is overrated.” Many times when somebody has a lot of experience, what they really have is the same experience repeated over and over again.
Thinking back, I’ve always reminded myself that just spending time in a job doesn’t make you better. It’s how you apply the time that you’re on the job. There’s a world of difference between going through the motions and actively trying to learn, absorb, and internalize knowledge, and actually apply it.
In the book, The Power of Something Stupid, Richie Norton shares how Stephen Covey helped him look at experience in a new way.
Experience is Overrated
It’s easy to confuse experience with exposure. Richie writes:
“Covey taught me a priceless principle that would forever change my outlook on the nature of education and experience. He said, ‘Richie, experience is overrated. Some people say they have twenty years, when in reality, they only have one year’s experience, repeated twenty times.’”
Free Yourself from Experience-Based Inadequacy
If you don’t let a lack of experience hold you back, then you are free to learn along the way. Richie writes:
“That statement blew my mind and opened windows of opportunity all around me. In an instant, I felt free from the self-inflicted mental bondage I had created for myself about my age and my feelings of experience-based inadequacy. I suddenly realized that if something was important enough to me, if I was truly committed to achieving success, I could learn what I needed to know along the way! Nothing could have felt more empowering.”
Eagerness is as Valuable as Experience
Experience is important, but so is eagerness. When you have a zest for continuous learning, you consume, absorb, and create experience at a different level. You compound the benefits of the experience you create as you learn the ropes. Richie writes:
“Just as valuable to experience is the eagerness to learn and a willingness to constantly seek improvement to get the job done. Covey taught me that authentic experience is gained not by simply strapping yourself in and doing the time, but through constantly (and sincerely) seeking learning and improvement along the road to success.”
How To Use This
In my personal journey, I’ve always focused on creating deeper experience, and finding ways to find the passion. One of the ways I check my career path is if I’m growing my skills and capabilities. This might mean getter better at what I do, or expanding what I’m capable of, by learning new skills. Whenever I reach a plateau, learning a new skill often helps me take some of my old skills to a new level. The sum of my skills is more than the parts.
I always remind myself that just being in a job or near a job, or near smart people, doesn’t automatically rub off on you (although some of it does – we’re great at unconsciously modeling the people around us.) One of the ways I try to make mundane or routine activities more useful, is I try to find ways to learn from it, or to practice a skill. I also focus on learning from everyone around me. This way, I am always using the time that I already spend, to get more out of it. Otherwise, it’s way to easy to put things on cruise control and erode my capabilities or skills. There’s a lot of truth that we’re either climbing or sliding, and there’s no in between.
Don’t let a lack of experience hold you back. Learn along the way, enjoy the journey, and embrace the nuances you create by deliberately seeking to improve, even your otherwise routine operations. The big thing to remember is that, if you get started, and you keep going, experience adds up, but only if you make it count. The other thing to keep in mind is that everybody has to start somewhere, and no matter where you start, it’s your eagerness and focus on learning that amplify your results.
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Image by Bob Jagendorf.