Before joining Experience Institute (Ei), I was already sold on experiential learning. I’d been a nerd in my younger years – always studying books and seeking answers to my many musings – but, learning how to be a better human didn’t happen through studying books, it transpired over seven years of nomadic living. So, when it came to continuing my higher education, I didn’t need convincing that experience was the best way to learn.

There’s a few lessons from that year of designing my own graduate degree that continue to resonate with me daily. I thought you might find them helpful.

Reflection is learning.
Throughout the year at Ei, one of our mantras focused on the importance of reflection. To provide plenty of relevant information to reflect upon, we were continually encouraged to document what we were learning through newsletter updates, blogs, journaling, and taking photos. Then, we’d join together as a class between each apprenticeship and reflect as a group. Ei coaches would help us thread the connections between all of our wildly diverse experiences and contextualizing them within the greater framework of our year and lives.

Now, reflection has become a habit. It’s a part of who I am and how I process life.

Structure creates freedom.
Before Ei, I had experienced all kinds of inspiring and beautiful endeavors, but I was all over the place. As an aspiring entrepreneur, which basically means you spend much of your time freaking out about what you should or shouldn’t do next, I had tried many different approaches to building structure into my schedule. I knew it would help, but it never seemed to work as well I’d hoped.

Ei gave me the confidence to turn structure into freedom; it’s how the entire program is designed. For a few years, I’d been on a mission to figure out how to bridge my business skills with ecology, but my experiences felt disconnected and chaotic. I wanted to do it all – all at once. Ei helped me make sense of this chaos by building structure around how I could bridge those worlds. And, I learned, it doesn’t have to be all at once; it all can be built one step at a time, incrementally.

The opportunity is greater than the problem.
When I came to Ei, I was a bit cynical. I was so frustrated with everything in our society, convinced our systems that are supposed to ‘serve’ us are actually harming us. I was always the first to point out problems and I loved talking shit.

During our first meetup, there was a moment of tension when someone called me out and said, “You probably have a problem with Whole Foods, too, don’t you?”

I felt embarrassed.

Was I one of those people who loves complaining? I actually did have many negative things to say about Whole Foods, but I held my tongue this time.

After this conversation, I was faced with many opportunities to talk about the world’s many problems, but I considered a new approach instead, asking myself, “Where is my effort going to yield the highest return?”

I thought that maybe if I talked more about the opportunities then more good stuff will happen.

And it worked like magic.

I went from being the one who complained to the one whose hope can’t be extinguished with a firehose on full blast. All I see is opportunity. As I continue to flip problems bears on their back and tickle them into opportunities, more and more opportunities keep coming my way. I’ve been blessed.

Now, I’m finding a sober-minded middle ground; a sweet spot between hope and critique.

If you want to see how I’m using these lessons in life post Experience Institute, check out my update on the Ei Blog.

As Victor always says, Onwards and Upwards!