Life Experience: The Greatest Teacher Ever!

December 19, 2016

We learn the most from the first-hand lessons life gives us. When things go wrong, we have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. Such situations force us to think about what we could have done better. Sometimes, our experiences at work pull us outside our comfort zone, compelling us to confront harsh realities or challenging situations that we never imagined we’d have to deal with. Some of these situations might even make us question our beliefs or our understanding of other people. In this article, I’ll share a few personal life lessons that have left an indelible mark on me. I hope you’ll find them thought provoking.

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Working with Difficult Subject-Matter Experts

On one technical-writing project, I had to deal with a difficult subject-matter expert (SME) who was not aware of the organization’s technical-writing standards and kept giving me suggestions that conflicted with those standards. Despite my making him aware of the standards and suggesting that he consider them when reviewing my work, his feedback continued to conflict with our standards. So, when I received his email messages, I immediately replied, countering his comments to prove my expertise in the domain. Without even realizing it, I had become defensive. In fact, on a few occasions, I even failed to recognize that some of his feedback was actually reasonable and actionable. Eventually, my behavior on the project resulted in an escalation.

When I later reflected on this experience, I realized that I should not have reacted emotionally to the SME’s comments. I should have analyzed his comments with a cool head and responded accordingly. The entire incident made me realize that becoming defensive and overreacting always debilitates logic. In contrast, my responses were more mindful when I was better equipped with reason and logic.

Lesson learned: Never overreact, always respond.

Improving a Bad User Experience

On one project, I was not at all convinced that the user experience was good enough. There was a lot of scope for improvement, and I wanted to suggest certain ideas to my team. But, as an intern, I was hesitant to convey my ideas to my team members, who had decades of experience. I was afraid they’d brush off my suggestions or that my senior colleagues might not take them well.

However, after a discussion with the lead technical writer, who insisted that I must write up and present my ideas to the team, I went ahead and communicated my points. To my surprise, the team welcomed my ideas for UX improvements. Once the implementation was complete, the team recognized the value of my suggestions in improving the entire user experience. This incident taught me that irrespective of one’s position in an organization’s hierarchy, one must voice one’s opinions when things don’t seem right. You never know what changes you can create!

Lesson learned: No matter your level in an organization, you should never hesitate to make a difference. Make your mark.

Being an Empathetic Manager

An incident occurred on my very first project, in the first month of my entering the field of technical writing. I had just begun to grasp the nuances of the client’s particular domain and was excited to send my first draft to the client for review, thinking I had done a great job. The next day, when I received the client’s feedback, I was shattered by the negative comments the client had made. I feared what my manager would say when he summoned me to a meeting, expecting that I might be fired.

Instead, my manager spoke encouraging words, telling me not to get flustered by the negative feedback I’d received. He knew exactly how I was feeling, talked me out of my apprehensions, helped me work through each comment, and restored my confidence. His faith in me made me give up any thought of quitting. Now, having completed eleven successful years in technical writing, I thank him for his support. This incident taught me that we must be empathetic toward our colleagues. One kind act can make a difference in a person’s life.

Lesson learned: Be empathetic toward your colleagues. A kind gesture can brighten someone’s day and might even be instrumental in changing the course of someone’s life for the better.

Avoiding Negative Colleagues

Early in my career, I made friends with someone who was a constant complainer. She was always complaining about something or other—whether about her family or the office. I spent a lot of time pacifying her or trying to make her see things differently, which sapped my energy. Moreover, her endless complaints soon started rubbing off on me. I could not concentrate on my work properly because my friend’s problems ran in an endless loop at the back of my mind. Without my at first realizing it, I found that I was unhappy.

Then, after a long vacation, I felt happier and more relaxed when I returned to work. I realized that this was because I had not been listening to my friend’s grievances. From that day, I promised myself that I would not befriend negative people and, instead, would consciously keep company with people who have a positive outlook on life.

Lesson learned: Avoid negative people who sap your energy.

Facing Your Fears

Each year, my organization’s documentation department conducts a two-day seminar called Docathon. When my manager told me that I would have to deliver a presentation at Docathon, I was scared to face a global audience and my own colleagues, talking about something everyone already knew so well. I suffered from stage fright. I thought, What if I forget my lines? What if I’m not able to answer questions? What if I bore my audience to death?

But, with my manager’s gentle coaxing and encouragement, I was able to take up the challenge. I worked hard and practiced my talk over and over again until I was confident. My presentation went very well. In fact, I got a special mention at the end of the day.

That day I realized, only by overcoming our apprehensions can we experience the joys of learning new things. We must challenge ourselves, embrace new experiences, and let go of our fears, which are obstacles to our achievement and happiness.

Lesson learned: Overcome your fears and keep challenging yourself.


In our journey through life, we should treat both our good and bad experiences as stepping stones toward success. We are social beings and must try to maintain harmonious relationships with everyone around us. Every step we take in the right direction and every action we take with the right intention can have huge impacts on our life, as well as the lives of others. We can all make a difference for the good—however small it may be. Each generous act is instrumental in creating a harmonious future and betters our lives. 

Lead Information Developer at BMC Software

Pune, India

Punam SaxenaPunam has been active in the field of technical communication for more than 13 years, as a writer, Help author, usability analyst, and certified ScrumMaster. She is passionate about learning new technologies and improving existing systems within organizations. She has received recognition for her quality-driven, customer-centric approach to creating documentation. She teaches the principles and techniques of technical communication, writes articles, and shares her learnings at various conferences. Punam holds a Master’s degree in Information Technology.  Read More

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