I read somewhere that the difference between school and life is that in school you’re taught a lesson then given a test; while in life you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.   This is not to say that one is better, or more important or more impactful than the other. Rather, it exemplifies the need to not only pursue knowledge but also experience.

I have spent a tremendous amount of time (and money) in school. I’ve been given a lot of structured lessons and have sat through countless tests. I am more knowledgeable as a result. However, as of late, it seems my education has leaned quite heavily on the side of life experience.

For whatever reason I am being tested. Though I am not entirely sure what life has in mind as a lesson, I am admittedly at a crossroads. I am a firefighter and, as such, a tactical athlete. Though I keep myself in as good of condition as I can, I feel the burden of the abuse I have inflicted on my body over the years. I am mindful that, in my chosen profession, self-awareness is essential in preventing the transition from champion to liability. I understand that I cannot do this forever. I know that to do so would be selfish and dangerous. I have seen this coming and in preparation I sought schooling. I got a Masters Degree from a prestigious University (Johns Hopkins). I read. I studied. I learned and I took tests. I graduated with a near perfect GPA and I hoped for the best. Nothing happened. Though I gained knowledge, I could not translate it into the wisdom necessary for progress or for change. There I sat, smarter but no wiser.

Now life has taken over my education. I am writing this as my wife of 13 years lies in significant pain, recovering from a back surgery that was necessary but far from easy. She hurts. I’m powerless. It is quite an effective lesson.

As I struggle to find the balance between caring for Trista and taking care of our family and daily life, I have begun to couple knowledge with experience. The information that once resided only scholastically in the recesses of my mind is now being challenged in practice. I am forced to find purpose, set priorities, develop new habits and routines. Though I have a Masters in Leadership, I have far from mastered life, or leadership for that matter. What I have come to understand is that knowledge gives us tools but it’s life that sharpens them, renders them useful and calls them to action. Currently, in this small space of reflection – the remnants of a test filled day – I am discovering the lessons.

I have developed a new Motto – No Rush, No Pause – as a means of delivering the patience necessary to tackle both these acute moments with Trista and the more obtuse pursuit of my future path. I am practicing the mindfulness necessary for diligent decision-making and prudent action. I am struggling to subdue my selfishness and harness the power of altruistic choices. I am trying to be brave and I am trying to be kind.

Life’s tests are not scheduled. They are unpredictable, difficult to study for and hard to pass on the first try. Though the challenges of life are great and many, they are also precious and beautiful. They push us to see beyond the experience itself and into a place of purpose and value. They measure our growth and prepare us for our potential. Life has been demanding lately – for all of us. If, like me, your life seems a bit tricky these days, take a deep breath. Don’t stop but don’t hurry. Observe what’s happening and find the test within. The lessons are there.

*Please be sure to sign up for Bread & Butter, The Hero’s Handbook newsletter to get a weekly dose of awesomeness along with a fun little fact from my son, Max.  You won’t be disappointed!