Opportunity –> Experience –> Perspective –> Empathy –> Understanding
Sometimes opportunity simply presents itself. But more often than not, it is created. You create opportunities by being friendly and hardworking – someone that others want to be around when work needs to be done or when it’s simply time to relax and have fun.
You create opportunities by saying “yes” to invitations. When there’s an opportunity to do the right thing and help someone, you step up and do it. Being optimistic and smiling when others are down is another reason people will want you around.
When people want you around, they start thinking of you when opportunities come up that you may not have even known about. And when those opportunities come, you take them.
Opportunities mean more exposure to life. Not all opportunities end up great, but even the things you wouldn’t do again yield a positive outcome. You still learn about yourself and, in those cases, what you don’t like. You also learn about things that other people are doing and why they might like something you don’t.
Either way, seizing opportunities leads to experience.
Experience makes us who we are. The more varied and different experiences we have, the more dynamic we become.
When I was in high school, I joined the Milwaukee Striders track club. It was based in the relatively poor inner city of Milwaukee. I traveled downtown each day with two other members of my suburban high school track team. We were the only white members of the team.
The day after I graduated high school, I moved to San Francisco and worked in the Monster Cable warehouse with a team of Vietnamese guys who largely only spoke Vietnamese.
Three of my roommates in San Francisco that summer were gay. Up until then, I’d never met a gay person, that I knew about.
Out of boredom, I followed a friend of mine to an organizational meeting to spend our Junior year of college abroad. I ended up living in England for a year while he decided not to go.
These are just some of the experiences I’ve had in my life, and each one of them made me a more dynamic and thoughtful person who was better equipped to see how the experiences of others compared to my own.
These experiences provided me with far greater perspective than I would have had if I had just gone down the normal path of working a local summer job and going right to college.
The more experience you have, the greater your perspective.
Perspective allows you to see beyond your current circumstances. With perspective, you are better able to filter the events that are happening directly to you. The deeper your perspective, the better you will be at determining how seriously to take an event or situation.
When our parents or grandparents tell us about how they walked to school, uphill and in a snow storm every day, that’s their way of helping us put into our perspective our own journey. It may not be the most effective way to help those with less perspective understand how relatively good they may have it, but it is born out of the decades of experiences and perspective that those who are older have had.
Some people in the workforce may complain about getting a small raise or having to work a 9 or 10 hour day. But if they are, they may not be aware of all those in the workforce who haven’t received a raise in years and/or may work a 10-12 hour day quite regularly. And, of course, they’re not even thinking about the record number of people who can’t even find a job in this economy.
This is not an argument for complacency or contentment. I am never satisfied and am always striving for something better. I expect those around me to be the same. But it does help us better determine where we stand and what the playing field really looks like.
Perspective is especially helpful in management. Being able to understand the different experiences and backgrounds of others helps us to better understand the points of view of others.
Perspective leads to empathy.
It’s often very easy to make fun of others or question their perceptions. Its easy to say someone is stupid. It’s easy to write someone off as being unreasonable when they can’t see something that, to you, is obvious.
But empathy helps us around that. People are a sum of their experiences, and their perspective on an event or situation comes from those. By having more experiences of our own, it allows us to understand the perspective of others. Heck, it’s often the only way it even occurs to us to try and even guess why someone is even thinking or saying the things they are.
Once we understand where someone else is coming from, we’re better equipped to ask them the right questions and be open-minded to where they’re coming from. Only when we understand that can we have a productive conversation with them.
The best part of these conversations, if you’re open-minded enough, is that you have a chance to be improving yourself. If someone comes at you from a perspective you don’t understand, but you had the empathy to ask about, you might just change your own perspective and learn something new.
Otherwise, you might be able to use their perspective to affirm your own beliefs. Either way is not bad. It is always good to be challenged, no matter what you end up concluding.
Once you’re able to consider what others are thinking, you are better able to understand them.
Empathy leads to understanding.
When you understand someone, you now have the information you need to make the best possible decision or choose the best course of action.
Just because you have empathy for someone and understand where they’re coming from, that doesn’t mean you may not still judge them harshly.
An obvious (and somewhat extreme) example? Understanding what made a person kill another may help you see why they did it. But that doesn’t make it any less heinous and inexcusable. But societally, it can help us improve conditions to move toward a time in which that never happens again.
Understanding also creates common ground. If you have an understanding with another, you’re better able to resolve differences, see similarities and work toward resolution.
In the end, life is a series of interactions that yield either positive or negative results for each of us. I think the goal should be to walk out with a net positive set of experiences. Following this progression is what got me to a point at which I’m very happy with what I’ve accomplished thus far. I’m hoping maybe it can help you, too.