When I was a child I was often annoyed by adults who claimed that an experience was what you made of it. These same adults were fond of telling children, “When you’re an adult, you’ll understand,” as if wisdom and a shift in our belief system are automatic with age. As a child I felt such egotistical declarations were only lazy ways to avoid self-awareness – a necessity in understanding how our experiences influence our belief system – and insults to children – children are capable of understanding nuance. I still do. I also find I still disagree with many of the statements those adults made – including, “an experience is what you make of it,” which I heard most commonly in reference to school.

Let’s look at higher education. The student must buy the required books, read the required articles, write the required papers, seek additional help when needed, and possibly reach beyond what is provided to understand the presented concepts. An outstanding professor, however, who has carefully selected the best reading material and who is able to eloquently explain the material, can make a big difference in propelling the responsible student forward. Yes, the student has to take responsibility, but who would argue that even the most responsible student could make equally valuable educational experiences out of all possible educational opportunities?

Work is not dissimilar. An abusive boss, colleagues that don’t do their part, and organizational issues beyond your control will all influence your experience – no matter how good an attitude you have, no matter how much you put in. Still, the adverse is not our excuse to give up. We are still responsible in part for our experiences, even though they are not wholly what we make of them.