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“Bob Burg opens the floodgates to Fort Knox.”

~ Dottie Walters, Author, Speak & Grow Rich

What Am I Supposed To Learn From This?

June 29th, 2012 by Bob Burg

Illusions by Richard BachVery grateful for all your feedback from our previous post where we looked at a gem of wisdom shared years ago that has made a significant difference in my life. Many of you learned that same lesson from the same man and shared great lessons from others that have benefited you.

Let’s look at another one. Nearly 20 years ago, a friend gave me a book entitled, Illusions by Richard Bach. I had LOVED Jonathan Livingston Seagull so was totally fired up to read this one, as well.

The tale of Richard being mentored by Donald Shimoda was indeed compelling and filled with golden wisdom throughout. Re-reading the book two weeks ago for the first time and seeing all the highlights I’d made and notes I’d written brought back great memories.

What was THE gem, though? What did he write that had such a profound effect and made such a huge difference for me?

In the Epilogue, Richard is still grieving over the death (actually, murder) of his friend, Donald. Admitting he has lived the scene 1000 time over in his mind and hoping it would somehow change, he asked himself…

“What was I supposed to learn that day?”

WOW! Now, admittedly, this already fit my belief that there is a reason for everything that happens, even if I don’t understand (and perhaps never will understand) what that reason is.  In other words, it wasn’t something I had to struggle in order to accept. Based on the premise that there is a reason for everything, then, logically, it follows there must be a lesson in it.

Richard’s question made me aware of this and inspired me to consciously ask myself, “What is the lesson? What am I supposed to learn from this?” after an uncomfortable event.

And, like Mr. Rohn’s advice in the previous post, this question has added hugely to my growth and effectiveness.

Oh, I still don’t always know the answer. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of the time I don’t, perhaps even when I think I do. But, the quest for understanding has been its own benefit. And, doesn’t wisdom begin when we begin to ask the right questions?

What do you think? Does this question make sense to you? Is asking it something you already do? And, if not, do you feel it would be helpful for you to form this habit?




27 Responses to “What Am I Supposed To Learn From This?”
  1. Liane Davey said at 7:55 am on

    Thank you for this. I wanted to answer your question about whether or not this question makes sense. I don’t share the belief that things happen for a reason, so I approach it a little differently from you. At the same time, like you, I don’t like to miss opportunities to learn something. I think the question I ask is just slightly different from yours. Instead of “what was I supposed to learn'” I just ask “what can I learn?” Hope this is valuable?

  2. Bob Burg said at 8:14 am on

    Liane: Thank you for your feedback and sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us. I think what’s really cool is that we can come from two different approaches yet both find the wisdom in Richard’s teaching. I think your question, “what can I learn?” is terrific. Thank you!

  3. Liane Davey said at 8:17 am on


  4. Jim Barber said at 8:47 am on

    Hey Bob! Illusions is a terrific book, filled with great wisdom. (Thanks for the reminder. I’m going to search for — never mind, I just spotted it — my old dogeared copy and re-re-read it.) You’re right — whether or not you believe that there’s a reason for everything, expecting yourself to learn lessons from uncomfortable events is a life-changer. Thanks!

  5. Bob Burg said at 9:08 am on

    Jim: Thank you. Much agreed, my friend. And, glad you were able to find your copy of the book! 🙂

  6. Linda Ryan said at 9:54 am on

    Someone (I rarely remember who said what) once told me “life is about learning lessons and the lesson is repeated until it is learned.” Embracing that truth has made a significant difference for me. Instead of saying “Why does this always happen to me???” (usually in a whiney voice), I have learned to “notice” that it’s happening again and actually do something about it. It’s amazing how swiftly things change once I change how I address them.
    Great post Bob!

  7. Bob Burg said at 10:05 am on

    Linda: I’ve heard that as well and think it’s a very valuable saying. And, like you, I often don’t remember where I read something. I think that’s because both of us read so many books where the messages align with one another, even if they are a bit different or differently stated. I think that the saying you are referring to is something that really hits me when I do repeat a mistake. This makes me more conscious of the fact I’ve done that and motivates me to take steps to ensure I don’t repeat it a third time (which…yes, also happens, but not as much as it used to) :-). I really love your reframe, as well, from “why does this…?” to noticing that it does. Thank you, oh wise New Jersey one. 🙂

  8. Kumar Gauraw said at 11:17 am on

    Wisdom definitely and positively begins when we begin to ask the right questions – if we choose to.
    Asking the question, “Why did this happen?”, “What did I learn from this?”, “What is the reason I had to face this?” – after having an uncomfortable situation/event is the way to calm down, refocus our spirit on constructive side.
    This is an amazing approach and this is the only way I can calm down myself having known my personality type. In fact when I don’t ask, I have friends who help me do so 🙂 Thank you Bob for sharing. This is an awesome idea.

  9. Jean Kuhn said at 11:17 am on

    I don’t always remember to ask myself this question. I usually only remember when I have struggled with something for awhile, but what I have found, is once I do ask myself the question, if the lesson is not immediately clear to me, I at least have found a little peace in the struggle. I believe things the way they are suppose to, and sometimes it’s not my lesson to learn even thought it affects me.

  10. Lene Jytte Hansen said at 11:26 am on

    Great article Bob! I’ve been asking myself that question, and often I do not know the answer – until much later. I think you often know before though. It’s this little voice from inside, that is so important to listen to, if it’s not a limiting belief off course 🙂
    I think we all are unique, and by that our questions should be different from person to person. And I think it important to have someone to talk it over with, often you find the answer just by telleing onother about it and all your thoughts about it.
    I LOVE Janathan Livingston Seagull by the way. Read it several times – it has every component of what it takes to go from mediocre to excellence.
    THANK’S 🙂

  11. Bob Burg said at 11:50 am on

    Kumar: Thank You. I’ll forever be grateful for the day I read that passage in Richard’s book!

    Jean: Great way to put it, that just by asking the question there is some inner peace that results. Thank you!

    Lene: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us. Very valuable to consider, indeed!

  12. Pamela said at 12:41 pm on

    Since I believe we each have a purpose in this life, I’ve always asked myself many questions regarding what I can learn, why is this showing up again, etc.
    If I didn’t believe we each have a purpose, I would see everything as random, nothing to teach and nothing to learn.
    Even in the valleys of my life, there’s something in the background…a hope…a willingness to capture something that will cause me to be a better person which will ultimately help me live a better purpose.

  13. Amy Wells said at 1:39 pm on

    I’m wired to find the good in everything, so learning from every situation, both good and bad, is in my DNA. But can we really call anything ‘bad,’ when from it, comes good?

  14. Bob Burg said at 2:10 pm on

    Pam: Powerful commentary, my friend. Wow – thank you for sharing that! Your statement, “If I didn’t believe we each have a purpose, I would see everything as random, nothing to teach and nothing to learn” just really impacted me. Very cool!

    Amy: You are definitely wired that way! Regarding your question as to whether we can “really call anything ‘bad’ when from it comes good? I don’t know. I suspect that, in a Cosmic sense, not. However, on an earthly level, there are certain atrocities that are difficult to imagine anything good about them. There can even be lessons in them and even have a purpose without they themselves being good (or, can they? I guess I don’t know).

  15. Christie Ellis said at 2:15 pm on

    I love this question because I have always tried to find some lesson in everything that happens…it’s what my Mom has told me more times than I can count. Like you said though, the answer may not be apparent, and I may never know it, but knowing that is there somewhere is very comforting for me.

  16. Bob Burg said at 2:30 pm on

    Christie: Sounds like you have a very wise Mom! Thank you for sharing her wisdom with us! 🙂

  17. Vanessa said at 3:59 pm on

    Thought-provoking article and comments. I really like Liane’s approach: asking “what can I learn?” Somehow it seems to me more pro-active and responsible than “what am I supposed to learn?” The latter (for me anyway) implies some kind of higher intelligence directing my life in ways I am not always able to understand, leaving me with a feeling of anger and betrayal when I can’t learn what I’m “supposed” to or “should” learn. Having gone through life-changing illness and surgery and recently a dysfunctional relationship, I want to know why these things happened and still don’t really know, though I’m working on it 🙂 If I ask myself “what can I learn?” it gives me the option of not learning anything just yet without feeling like a failure. Hope that makes sense!

  18. Bob Burg said at 5:19 pm on

    Vanessa: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feedback. The great thing is being able to hold some different foundational beliefs (such as yours and Liane’s being different from mine in this regard) and yet all of us be able to come away with a great lesson which helps us to grow. Meanwhile, I’m so sorry to hear about some of the challenges you have had and hope you are doing and feeling much better after your surgery.

  19. Tammy Redmon said at 8:34 pm on

    A lovely post Mr. Burg. What I found to be particularly interesting is that you ask the question to yourself what you are to learn only ‘after an uncomfortable event’. That has me curious because I know you are not alone. It is widely held action and belief that I am to learn from these challenges. What makes me curious is – – can’t we also learn from the good things? I have found some of the greatest lessons I have gained have come from those wildly amazing experiences in my life. From those moments that I press into the ‘what more can I learn from this today’ I am open to possibility. Even a shift in perspective.

  20. Bob Burg said at 9:36 pm on

    Tammy: Yes, we can absolutely learn from the good things. But that’s easy. It’s like the person who is happy when things are going well. Not a real stretch there. remaining happy in the face of adversity is a bit more difficult. 🙂 So, in terms of learning lessons, it’s when uncomfortable things happen that we are not as likely to to want to deal with them or the lessons they may be presenting to us. Also, I wonder if perhaps we don’t learn as much from the “good” things as we do from the “bad” things. But, I really know if that is true. Also, I love how you take the good experiences and leverage them by learning even more. Terrific food for thought you have provided us. Anyone want to respond to Tammy and her great thoughts?

  21. Amy Wells said at 9:54 pm on

    Tammy, I love that….learn from amazingly good experiences!!

  22. Bob Burg said at 9:10 am on

    Amy, my apologies; I just noticed that in my comment to you (about eight comments above) I used a question mark rather than an exclamation point (now fixed) which sent the opposite message of what I intended to say.

    Regarding your comment about being wired to see the good in everything, I wrote: “Amy: You are definitely wired that way?” when, of course, what I meant to write was: “Amy: You are definitely wired that way!”

    Again, my apologies!!

  23. Berni Xiong said at 8:45 pm on

    Wow what parallel lives we lead at times. My friend gave me both of Bach’s books as an inspirational gift two years ago. The message resonated with me completely. It reminds me of what I often say: “Though I didn’t understand it then, when all was still unfolding, I understand it now with so much clarity why things transpired as they had.”

    I’ve found that with every challenge I’ve stuck out and overcome, I’ve gained greater opportunities from those experiences as a result. I’m deeply humbled by that.

    Thank you so much for sharing this cuz!

    Cousin Berni

  24. Bob Burg said at 9:41 pm on

    Berni: How cool. I love your saying! And, your next paragraph, yes, sticking it out and overcoming leads to great things, doesn’t it? Thanks Cuz!

  25. Amy Wells said at 12:12 am on

    You are precious My Bob!

  26. Salvador Navarro said at 12:59 am on

    It makes sense to me, even though it is somewhat still confusing. Perhaps, over time and reflection, I may get a snippet or a complete answer. But as long as the question is there, I think it will be revealed and resolved itself in the future.

  27. Bob Burg said at 7:08 am on

    Salvador: That’s a great way to look at it!

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