Experiences Matter

As many of you know, I love Broadway shows and my favorite is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s innovative smash hit Hamilton. One of the songs in that show is titled Yorktown: The World Turned Upside Down, which refers to the unimaginable outcome of the colonies winning the Revolutionary War. Well, we’re all facing an almost unimaginable situation today with the coronavirus pandemic, and our world has been turned upside down.

And we’re navigating it well despite all the challenges. If I had told you six months ago that the following would all happen over a two week period, what would you have thought?

  • Most bars and restaurants would be closed and only offering take out
  • Most colleges would be shut down, students sent home and everything shifted to online learning
  • Most elementary and high schools would be shut down indefinitely
  • Every public event and gathering of ten or more people would either be outlawed or strongly discouraged
  • Spring training would be put on hold, the NHL and the NBA stopped overnight, March Madness cancelled and the Olympics delayed at least a year
  • Grocery stores would have limited amounts of food and virtually no toilet paper or paper towels
  • In several states (and growing) stay at home orders would be issued and only essential businesses would be allowed to be open and operate
  • Hundreds of thousands of workers immediately let go because of business shut downs
  • Every airline at risk of bankruptcy due to an overnight drop in air travel

Imagine what you would have thought things would be like IF you could have even imagined it. Chaos, rioting in the streets, looting, dogs and cats sleeping together (Ghostbusters reference), bedlam, etc. And yet, that isn’t the case is it.

Yes, times are uncertain and many people are at significant risk, physically and financially, and yet we’re mostly navigating this world turned upside down well. Perhaps, it’s because we’re maintaining (and heightening) our level of humanity.

We’re also finding ways to stay virtually connected and at deeper levels than before. Yes, we’re afraid and mostly physically isolating, but we’re not becoming isolated which is one of my fears. It’s all too easy to fall into a new form of connecting and to lose our thirst for physical touch and live interactions, but we can’t let this happen because it’s too important.

I was recently on a virtual happy hour, which was a great way to connect with people (some I knew and some I didn’t) and to do so over long distances. In fact, I see myself doing virtual happy hours long after this pandemic has passed so that I can connect with people far away, but it’s never going to be a replacement for real life experiences.

During the virtual happy hour someone suggested that virtual connections will become more of the norm and that travel will never be the same. In part because of the pandemic and in part because of the concerns about the environment, but we have to resist a shift to virtual experiences of life and people.

Here’s what hit me during this discussion:

  • Information – The facts about an experience rarely evoke emotions of any kind, We just don’t feelfacts.
  • Stories – The stories about an experience often evoke emotions about the story, but we can’t feel the experience without the experience itself.
  • Experience / Place – While stories are magical, there are unique emotional experiences and feelings connected to the place or experience that cannot be imitated even through a great story.

I didn’t travel much throughout most of my life, but I’ve traveled extensively inside and outside the United States over the past four years. One thing I’ve learned from these travels is that experiencing a place (with someone or alone) delivers emotional impact that can’t be replicated.

I remember standing on Omaha Beach in Northern France and just weeping from what I felt there. I remember walking into the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and I started to cry when I walked through the gate (even before I got out to the underwater memorial). I remember what it felt like to stand at the End of the World (the Atlantic Ocean) on the Camino de Santiago after I finished my walking journey.

I remember what it felt like being in the delivery room when both of my sons were born. I remember what it felt like watching each of them graduate high school. I know what it feels like to give and receive a long, lingering hug. And all the stories about these experiences don’t hold a candle to the in person experience.

For now, we need to limit our in person experiences, but make no mistake about it. Once it’s safe again, we need to rush back into our personal and live experiences of people and life. This world will never be the same again, but perhaps it can be even better. We can be more grateful, more humble and more helpful. We can connect more deeply in person and find ways to connect in different ways. We can expect less to be given to us and cherish more what we have. We can trust ourselves and each other more.

We’re all having experiences now that will change us forever, but make sure that those changes are for the good. We don’t know what’s yet to come with this pandemic, but I do know this – nearly all of us will survive this and every one of us will have a choice to make about the ways we live, love and connect going forward. Hold on tight to experiences because they matter!

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