Side order: "Life Experience"

Preface to LONG post: So I have to admit that longer posts have become a slight challenge for me. I started this blog writing mostly about my daily life, thoughts and experiences while living in Sudan but since I've been back in the U.S., I have found it harder to write about what's going on in my world. At the same time, I realize that I don't want my blog to become a place of only pretty pictures where readers have little or only a one-dimensional concept of the person behind the posts. So...long story short...I'm going to try at least once a week to delve deeper into issues/thoughts/ideas that may be going on in my life or about Africa or whatever in my head. For those of you who prefer just the pretty pictures...fear not as I'll keep those coming as well! For those who like a little more reading, get a little comfy!

Last week, while reading this article by Fly Brother, something he wrote really struck me: “... they say it’s all about priorities, and right now, my priority is to live life, not accumulate it. Or, rather, to accumulate life experience, not just baggage...”

This seems to be a really popular idea these days or at least it seems that way from the different blogs, books, and magazines floating out and about in the world. The question that keeps coming back to my mind is “what exactly is a life experience?” No one really defines it when they write or talk about it...

Some people write about it as if it is something one can go out and pick up off a shelf, bag and take around with you. When the conversation or timing is right, you can just open up your suitcase of life experience and toss one on the table: “Oh I remember when I went/did/saw/touched...........(fill in the blank)” In this case, I seriously wonder what the difference is between accumulating life experience and accumulating baggage. On one hand you are weighed down by material things and on the other you are weighed down by the past and the significance that you have attached to it.

Others seem to have very clear (even if it isn’t explicitly said) ideas about what a life experience is and their bottom line always seems to be: if it doesn’t involve a plane ticket and foreign soil, it doesn’t count on the life-experience-o-meter. In this case, there is a clear distinction between those who have traveled and those who have not, and we all know who the winner is in that case!

All of this has struck me recently because my own ideas of what constitutes a life experience seems to be shifting. I have certainly been part of both groups that I have described above. I have had many moments in which I was going through something and before the experience was even over, I had already branded it in my mind with the “LIFE EXPERIENCE” stamp. Later on, in a need show I “know” some thing, I could always pull out that experience. This is especially important in my field where showing how much you “know” about Africa or Latin America or wherever can be the difference between you working on a particular assignment or being placed in one division over another.

I have also been in the school of “plane ticket + foreign soil = instant life experience!” In fact, some days, I still feel tied to this mentality. By not having touched foreign soil in almost a year (July 2008 and I’m still claiming Canada as “foreign” damnit!!!), I sometimes question if I have really “lived” at all. I have to consciously remind myself that I am the only one limiting my own definition of what constitutes a life experience.

Nowadays, when it comes to what exactly is a life experience, it's really all gray gray gray to me. The moments that have come to mean the most to me are those in which I grew maybe just an inch or two; where I did something I always thought to be a scary and became slightly braver; where I removed a long held assumption and opened myself to the possibility of a different interpretation; when I realized that there are no rules and clear cut answers. Now my goal is to keep myself as open as possible; to consider that life experiences take place everyday regardless of geography, most often without me plotting them or even realizing their significance until much later; that life experience is a culmination of tiny moments and small decisions that end up defining a person.

So let's turn the table around...what does the idea of life experience mean to you? Have your definitions of "life experience" changed over time?

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