We can become bitter or better as a result of our experiences

Identical twins brothers attended their twentieth high school class reunion. One brother was a successful writer. The other failed miserably at everything he tried. The successful brother was asked what he perceived as the critical factor that helped him achieve success, and he quickly answered, “My parents.”

This story illustrates how two people can come from the same background and yet interpret its effect on them in entirely different ways. The story doesn’t tell us how the parents treated each of the brothers as they grew up. It may be possible they favored the successful one. They may have seen a potential in him and gave him advantages the other brother did not have. It is also possible they may have favored the one who failed! The parents may have absorbed the consequences of his mistakes instead of allowing him to learn from them. Whatever the case may have been, as a result of their childhood experiences, one brother was prepared to move ahead and explore his potential, while the other brother held back and wallowed in negativity—a truth expressed eloquently by minister Eric Butterworth, who said, “We can become bitter or better as a result of our experiences.”

An article in Abundant Living magazine tells of an Irish uprising in 1848 in which the men were captured, tried, and convicted of treason against Her Majesty Queen Victoria. All were sentenced to death. Passionate protest from all over the world persuaded the queen to commute the death sentences. The men were banished to Australia—a place as remote and full of prisoners as Russian Siberia was later. Years passed. In 1874 Queen Victoria learned that a Sir Charles Duffy who had been elected prime minister of Australia was the same Charles Duffy who had been banished twenty-six years earlier. She asked what had become of the other eight convicts and learned that Patrick Donahue became a brigadier general in the United States Army; Morris Lyene became attorney general for Australia; Michael Ireland succeeded Lyene as attorney general; Thomas McGee became minister of agriculture for Canada; Terrence McManus became a brigadier general in the United States Army; Thomas Meagher was elected governor of Montana; John Mitchell became a prominent New York politician, and his son, John Purroy Mitchell, became a famous mayor of New York City; and Richard O’Gorman became governor of Newfoundland!

What happens to us on the journey of life is not nearly as important as how we handle what happens. Life sometimes takes unexpected twists and turns that can throw us off course for a time. We may have experienced an unhappy childhood in a broken home or with parents who were alcoholics. We may have been considered the “black sheep,” the one who just never fit in with the others. Almost anyone can find reasons for not doing as well as he thinks he should have. The key to successful living, however, is to learn from our experiences, good and bad, and go on from there. If we choose, we can try to move forward and forge the kind of life we desire to live in spite of some of the falls we may have taken.

“Our patience will achieve more than our force,” said Edmund Burke. The longer we live, the more opportunity life gives us to perfect ourselves if we but put purpose in living. If you want to know whether or not you are successfully walking the path of life, ask yourself this question: “Is my life like a brush pile or a tree?” In contrasting your life in this manner, remember that the brush pile is a heap of cut and broken branches. From a distance it may look like a tree, but its branches have no communion with a living stem, and they are in a process of decay. The tree,
however, is still alive, and its branches are vitally related to one another. Thus, you can tell the difference!

Imagine for a moment that you have reached the end of your life and are reflecting on the many and varied scenarios that have comprised your world. Wouldn’t you want to look back with pride, knowing you had made the best of each situation, regardless of how difficult it may have been? Isn’t this better than looking back and sorrowfully wishing you had handled things differently? To guard against possible regrets, it is important to handle every experience to the best of your current ability. You may have to practice more patience; strive a little harder to accomplish your goal; reach inside yourself a little deeper to garner greater strength; and muster a little more faith in God and yourself. You may need to make a commitment to push yourself harder and farther than at any time in the past. After you have given everything you feel you have to give and still seem to come up short, there is nothing to be ashamed of because you have done your best. You can experience the inner peace of those who know they gave their all. You can be a success regardless of the outcome. You can be better, not bitter, from the experience because you know you really gave your best effort.

The commitment of giving your best at all times enables one to find value in—and lend value to—every experience in life. Take what is given to you to accomplish today, and make it a most wonderful expression of your gifts and talents. Utilizing your inner resources in this manner, you can look back over the events of your life with satisfaction and peace of mind, because there will likely be no regrets.