Reflecting On Your Experience

Have you ever heard the phrase: “Experience is the best teacher“?

According to, the history of the phrase can be traced all the way back to Julius Caesar:

EXPERIENCE IS THE BEST TEACHER – “The great Roman leader Julius Caesar recorded the earliest known version of this proverb, ‘Experience is the teacher of all things,’ in ‘De Bello Civili’ (c. 52 B.C.). Over a century later, the Roman author Pliny the Elder in ‘Naturalis Historia’ (A.D. 77) wrote, ‘Experience is the most efficient teacher of all things,’ and the Roman historian Tacitus said simply, ‘Experience teaches,’ in his ‘Histories’ (c. 209). The earliest English rendering appeared in 1539 as ‘Experience is mother of prudence,’ which was included in Richard Taverner’s ‘Proverbes or Adagies.’.the exact wording, ‘Experience is the best teacher,’ appeared in the ‘Widow Bedott Papers’ (1856) by Frances M. Whitcher.” From “Wise Words and Wives’ Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New” by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993).

Unfortunately, I believe the phrase to be a MYTH.

This is because I know a lot of people who have a lot of experience, but don’t have the wisdom that should come from it. They had the experience, but they didn’t learn the lesson the experience provided.

I would offer (with the assistance of leadership guru, John Maxwell) that “Experience is NOT the best teacher, EVALUATED experience is.

There are some lessons that I don’t learn from my experiences. Thus, I’m forced to repeat them. Some people may say they have five years of experience. But that’s only if they have learned from their experiences. Otherwise, what they might really be saying is, “I have one year of experience…five times!”

If you are a student leader, you are in the process of gaining experience. Most of what you are doing will be new to you. Because of that, take this opportunity to have as many experiences as you can. But don’t forget the most important part of the whole process – reflecting on those experiences to learn what they have to teach you.

Once you’ve gained some experience, it will help you in the following ways:

  1. Your experience shapes your perspective.
  2. Having an experience gives you a slight advantage over others who haven’t.
  3. Your experience gives you something to share with the student leaders who will follow you.
  4. Your experience will help you get your bearings more quickly in similar situations.
  5. People are more willing to listen to someone when they’ve gone through something and take the time to talk about their success or failure.
  6. Your experience will add to the uniqueness of your story.
  7. While every situation is different, your experience can give you clues to what your next move should be.

One of the tips I share with every student leader is a simple checklist to help them know when an event or activity they are leading is “officially” over:

  • You’ve put everything away.
  • You’ve thanked everyone who helped.
  • You’ve evaluated the experience and learned the lessons it had to teach you.

Would you like a tool to help you in the evaluation process of your event or activity? I’ve created a free PDF for you to download. It will help you to walk through the details of what you just did (what went wrong, what went right, etc). Fill it out for each event or activity. A folder full of these would make an excellent gift to the person who serves in your role next year.

Download Event Evaluation Sheet

Share this Post