Power Comes From Experience - Get It Now, While You Can

Last Updated Oct 5, 2010 6:26 PM EDT

Power Comes From ExperienceWhen I was a young engineer at Texas Instruments, and pretty full of myself, I may add, I had a manager named Dick. Dick wasn't a genius. He wasn't particularly quick-witted or smooth-talking. But Dick had been around for a long, long time. Dick knew people, he knew how things worked, and he knew how to get things done. As a result, Dick was a powerful man. Dick's power was experience.

One day I walked into Dick's office and noticed a sign on his wall that read, "I may not be smart, but I sure am experienced." Being the smartass that I was, I printed a similar sign that read, "I may not be experienced, but I sure am smart," and hung it on my office wall.

I did it as a gag, to taunt him. We used to do that sort of thing, way back before political correctness screwed up the workplace. Okay, maybe there was a shred of defiance in there too.

But when Dick saw my sign, he didn't laugh or even rebuke me. He just sort of scoffed at it and went about his business. He didn't dignify it with a response. That really puzzled me. It just wasn't Dick's style not to play along with a prank. So I didn't really understand his reaction, at the time. But now, I think I do.

I think Dick reacted the way he did because there's no way a manager with decades of experience can explain what that really means to someone whose career began sometime before lunch. It's like trying to explain ugly to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. You just can't. So Dick didn't even try.

That anecdote aside, Dick was generous with his advice for me and other aspiring managers and leaders back then. In fact, quite a few went on to successful executive careers. Go figure. Anyway, I've never forgotten one thing Dick said to me almost 30 years ago:

"You can spend your whole life whining and complaining and annoying everybody, or you can suck it up and think positively."
That was good advice. And while I can't say I've always lived up to it, it has served me well over the years. Speaking of which, now that I'm the one with experience, here's my advice, ironically, on the subject of experience:

The best advice is often the stuff you don't want to hear. Back in the day, there was no Internet, so the voice of experience came to you face-to-face. You could more effectively judge its source, its quality. These days, you're reading this on a blog, perhaps off a Twitter link. You have a lot more choices in terms of sources of advice. That's both good and bad. Be discerning. Advice can fool you. Sometimes it glitters like gold, but it could be fool's gold. The best advice I've ever gotten was the stuff I didn't want to hear. That's because it meant I would have to change, and change is hard work ... and often scary.

So, if you don't want to hear it, chances are it's important; pay attention.

Take big risks when you're young and can afford to. Experience comes from learning, you learn by trial and error, and that means taking risks. In general, the bigger the risks, the bigger the lessons learned. So take them now, while you can. The older you get, the less likely you are to take big risks. It's only natural since you have more to lose. That's when your risks will become smarter, more calculated.

You learn more and faster when you're young, but only if you take risks. The kind of experience Dick had didn't come by playing it safe. Same here. I took big risks when I was young. They were scary, but I had good mentors and a good support system, so I took them. Sure, I made some huge mistakes, but they became life lessons that served me well. Those big risks paid off bigtime in terms of experience. They will for you too.

Also check out:

Image CC 2.0 courtesy Flickr user kelsey_lovefusionphoto