Unexpected Teachers

Zipping around the globe, I often find myself in the back of a taxi or an Uber. I used to painfully ruminate in frustration – sitting in traffic is a total waste of time, after all. But a few months back, I decided to look up from my mobile phone and strike up a conversation with my driver. What began as a distraction from the mundane became a powerful and enriching experience.

I discovered that Ismail, who grew up in Bosnia, came to this country 19 years ago. He told me about his life, loves, and losses. I learned about his struggles, how he overcame adversity, and how he recently sent his son to college. The more I engaged instead of tuning out, the more I learned and discovered. He shared his philosophy of hard work, steering clear of temptation, and how to handle adversaries. By the time I left the car, I felt like I’d been to a Tony Robbins retreat.

On another trip, I met Jose. He shared how he coaches his daughter’s volleyball team, teaching me powerful lessons on fair play, competitive strategy, and preparation. How is it that I manage to keep getting into cars with drivers who are gurus, I wondered?

Then it occurred to me that there are teachers everywhere, if we’d only take the time to listen. We can learn the most powerful lessons from the most unlikely sources if we’re willing to open our hearts and minds for growth. This was a magical moment for me, realizing that even the most frustrating and mundane situations in life possess enormous learning opportunities if we’re willing to seize them. Instead of looking at life’s moments in a binary fashion (either pleasurable or painful), I shifted my perspective to turn those blasé situations into learning opportunities.

With a fresh outlook, I stopped dreading airport delays and doctor office waits. Instead of seething in frustration, I decided to drink in every ounce of learning and growth that each situation could provide. And it turns out there is miraculous insight to be gleaned from even the most tedious circumstances if we’re willing to accept it.

Not every moment can be glorious, but you can make the choice to use each ordinary experience to your advantage. Look at every cashier as a teacher, every magazine as a textbook, and every delay as an opportunity for growth. If learning and insight are the key factors that drive us to the highest levels of success, why not extract the lessons at each and every turn?

The next time you find yourself in a less-than-ideal situation, flip it upside down as an opportunity for growth. Look up, lean in, and learn on.