Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Experience: Sunday musings…8/16/2020

1) Ruffle. It’s perfectly OK to ruffle dirty feathers.

2) Auditioning. “Auditioning is like stripping without the money.” Jim Gaffigan.

Most of anything like an audition I’ve had over the last 20 years has happened without me being aware of it. Kinda the opposite of standing on stage and imagining your whole audience is naked. The ambush audition is like discovering that it was YOU who was naked.

3) Shields. It makes me wonder why face shields haven’t gotten more play as safety devices for school kids, especially K-8 or so. Even more perplexing is the directive yesterday from the CDC that there is “insufficient evidence” that they are protective. Meh, the evidence from real, honest to goodness study is paper thin for masks of all sorts that are short of N95 respirators.

Socialization is a key component of early childhood schooling. Indeed, it may be an even more important aspect to high school. It certainly leads to more emotionally healthy teenagers it seems. Seeing the entire face of your age peers, and that of your teacher, is an important part of learning how to occupy your place in society. Why have face shields been so readily disregarded as an option?

4) Experience. “Experience is the best teacher, but the tuition is high.” -Anon

This came across my line of sight around the time someone asked me about an ophthalmic surgeon’s operating peak, like an athletes peak or prime years. Like so many other things there is a confluence of factors that combine to create such a peak. While your hands, your vision, and your physical stamina are considerably higher in your 20’s or your 30’s, the true peak for an eye surgeon comes after 8-12 years of operating, depending on the number of cases you fit into each year. At this point you’ve mostly mastered the mechanics of your procedures. This, combined with the wisdom hopefully garnered by the mistakes you made over those 8-12 years, combines talent, practice, and more importantly the experience that allows you to apply the first two.

The tuition the anonymous author refers to is the anguish that accompanies the learning that accrues from both mistakes and from difficult situations that arise even when you haven’t deviated from known best practices.

I’m hard pressed to think of any aspect of life that can’t be viewed through the same prism. Think of the fine balance between the skillset of a modern NFL quarterback and the knowledge of the game that can only come from taking thousands of snaps under game time pressure. Or a front line, sharp end of the spear first responder like a police officer or warfighter approaching a dodgy situation in the field. The hard-earned experience of prior engagements will carry the veteran to a win even when he/she has started to experience a decline in physical skill. Even less martial examples, leading a salesforce for example, prove the principal. Woe be to that manager who continually makes the same mistake when deploying their people into the field.

It’s fascinating to look at purely intellectual pursuits through the lens of experience. Authors and academicians are certainly not physically taxed the way that athletes, peace officers, or even surgeons are. Yet rare is the person in these more cerebral fields who doesn’t get better at what they do with time and experience. Where the athlete or the surgeon may eventually break down physically to a point where no experience will carry them further, the intellectual can continue as long as they don’t lose their ability to think. Indeed, like the stiffening of joints in the active pursuits, failing to learn from experiences as they age leads to an ossification of thought, an inflexibility that hinders further learning. Here, too, the metaphor is apt.

There is, of course, a point of diminishing gains as one piles on the experiences. Not that one can’t continue to learn. More that the increments of learning garnered from new experiences, or more specifically their effects on the forward-going performance of the learner, necessarily shrink over time. An eye surgeon, for example, can remain in their operating prime (absent illness) well into their 60’s and even beyond. At a certain point experiencing something new and different is such a rare event that it brings equal parts shock and pleasure.

But the unknown sage who first uttered the words above was doubtless not talking about the crusty old surgeon or academic. No, he or she was almost certainly speaking to a much younger audience, and perhaps if they are very young themselves, the parents of that audience. In the pursuit of living making a mistake is only failure if it does not lead to learning. Failure need only be temporary if it is used as the springboard to the next experience, and the next, and the next.

Tuition charged by experience is most expensive when what is taught remains unlearned.

I’ll see you next week…

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