I don’t like to work out with friends, because I’m also kind of a loner and I’m also terribly wimpy. Once, I went to a weight training class with a friend and discovered she was a beast! She was upping the instructor’s suggested weights and lifting with ease! Meanwhile, I was struggling with half the weight and staring at the clock waiting for this torture to end. The next day she was gracefully ambling around while I moved with the ease of a ninety four year old woman. By attending the class, I learned to respect my friend’s physical prowess and gained new found respect for her. Did I go back? What am I crazy?! No. No, I did not. But I got a great story out of the experience. See? This whole paragraph would have been empty without that story. So many paragraphs of the story of my life would be empty without having endured painful experiences. Even though I don’t like something while I’m experiencing it, when it’s over I find a way to turn it into a good story. It’s made my life so much more enjoyable.
This turning-bad-experiences-into-a-great-story thing is not unique to me. It's pretty much the majority of what you will hear if you listen in on a gathering of Booths. The crazier the story the more we get excited to share it with our audience. These story telling gatherings were my first introduction into why experience collecting was so valuable. We didn't have to be rich in money or possessions. We took the experiences we encountered and used them to enrich our lives.
Collecting experiences isn’t as easy as collecting Starbucks mugs, t-shirts, or bumper stickers, but experiences are much more rewarding. They enrich my life as a reader, learner, and employee. Experiences have made me a more interesting person and they have made me a more interested person. I can hold my own at a dinner party with a story to share about one of my experiences and I am interested to hear about others experiences.
Collecting experiences has taken me down some rather unusual paths, but that’s the point, right? While in St. Louis with Logan, we were slowly wandering toward our dinner destination. During our walk we ended up splashing and laughing in a park fountain. By the time we were done we were both soaked and disheveled looking, but we had a lot of laughs and made some great memories. (This park seemed to allow this activity. I wouldn’t recommend splashing in random public fountains.)
I’ve seen a performance at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, walked on the Great Wall of China, and stood on the top of the Empire State Building. I've also snuggled a new born baby, cooked with my mom, and danced in the rain. Experiences can be big and grand, but they don't have to be.
Sometimes collecting experiences can be perceived as expensive because experiences seem better in exotic locations. But don’t believe that you have to spend big to begin your collection. All it takes is the actions I’ve mentioned previously. You need to be a learner and reader so you know why something is an experience worth collecting and you need to be willing to explore. Why is it worth it to eat a brownie at the Palmer House? Because it is where brownies were first invented. So after eating it you can say that you have tasted the original brownie. Being willing to explore will push you beyond your comfort zone. If your friends are going camping and have invited you, consider going even if you aren’t a camper. This doesn’t mean it has to be a regular thing, but you can say that you did it and create lasting friendships and community along the way.
Sometimes these experiences don’t go as you intended. That’s okay. Go with the flow. One time I took students and Logan down to the Museum of Science and Industry for a lecture about Project 120 and Jackson Park. It ended with me climbing in the koi pond to fish out Logan’s toy boat. I could have been really mad. I could have chastised Logan and lamented that the day was a disaster, but what a story. After the lecture we headed out and had a tour of the island given by the president of Project 120 and the director of Chicago’s parks and recreation department. Our group met the president and even took a few photos with him. We then toured the Wooded Island and visited the Japanese Garden. This was beautiful. The cherry blossom trees were blooming and the garden, which was not even open to the public yet, was peaceful and inviting. Our group wandered all over the garden until we heard Logan calling. He had sunk his toy boat in the koi pond. The same koi pond we had just heard about in the lecture. The same koi pond that had just recently been cleared of years’ worth of litter and debris. The same koi pond that the director of parks and recreation department, the president of Project 120, and other official-ish people were now standing around. I contemplated what to do. Logan wanted his boat back. Jason had purchased him that boat as a special present so he would have been disappointed at its loss. I knew wading in the pond probably wasn’t encouraged. I also knew that they had only recently completed the clean-up effort and wouldn’t be thrilled about seeing a sunken toy boat in the pond. The parks director and other officials were staring at me to see what I would do. Logan and my students were watching. I sat down on a bolder, removed my boots, pushed up my leggings, and climbed in the pond. After removing the toy boat and seeing the stricken faces of the officials I held up the boat and proclaimed, “I didn’t want to litter!” One of the representatives of the parks department came over and shook my hand and said it was the most valiant effort in litter removal that he had ever seen. What started as an intellectual outing with students turn into a debacle that included a teacher in the pond. Despite the cold and the embarrassment the day was ultimately a success because we all got a great story.
Do things that are unique, fun, and sometimes weird. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Sometimes these things scare will scare you, but that’s okay. Face your fears and proceed. Some things, like zip lining were terrifying at first, but then they become thrilling. My experiences also help me better know myself. How do you know if you don't like something if you've never tried it? I have tried to like fish. I really have, but I can say with confidence and authority that I don’t like fish or other sea food. When I say that people often tell me that I haven’t tried it in the right places, but I can respond, “I’ve tried it in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Portland, Maine, Boston, Massachusetts, and Monterey, California.” I don’t like camping and I know it because I’ve done it a few times. I did enjoy sleeping in the tent with my friends though so I’m glad my parents encouraged me to go. I have really tried to like roller coasters, but I don’t. I just don’t. Sorry, Cedar Point.
I hope to look back on my life and remember the things I have done and the places I have visited with fond memories, thankful for how each experience has enriched my life. Collect experiences to fill your life with interesting paragraphs that will fill in the boring mundane details of your chapters. Some chapters are duller than others so they need more interesting paragraphs as fillers. So let's get experiencing together!
A Few of My Favorite Experiences
1. Being at Stonehenge for the summer solstice sunrise.
2. Running a marathon. I'm really slow, but I love being able to say I've done it. I've done a total of 6 (thus far).
3. Goat Yoga. This one is just too odd not to love. There are some people who find goat yoga a beautiful expression of connecting with nature, but I found it difficult to fully relax with the possibility of getting pooped on being present.
4. Staying up late to watch a meteor shower. A few of my former students visited me last summer and we sat in the driveway wrapped in blankets to watch the Perseid meteor shower. The photo below isn't mine. That night we put the electronics away and just watched and talked. Also that's WAY more stars than we could see from our home in suburbia.
5. Visiting Platform 9 3/4. My niece and I thought the idea was original. Apparently we were wrong, but nevertheless we had a great time.
What are some of your favorite experiences?
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."