The Great Experiment

This post is written by Becca Nelson.

photo by Becca Nelson

photo by Becca Nelson

A couple months ago, I watched a documentary about the Tiny House movement.

It featured several people who are simplifying their lives by building tiny houses.  In addition the many advantages of living in a tiny house, such as designing your own space and avoiding a costly mortgage, one tiny house owner talks about “treating life as an experiment, rather than a series of dead-end decisions.”  When I heard that, something clicked for me. 

Over the past few years, I have run into plenty of dead-ends.  Dead-end jobs, dead-end ambitions, dead-end relationships.  As hard as I’ve tried to make wise decisions, I keep coming back to “What did I do wrong?”  I assumed if I was really following “God’s will for my life”, it would be working out better. 

But what if I wasn’t wrong?  What if I was supposed to try and fail? 

Failure is a natural part of any experiment.   When you conduct an experiment, you don’t know how it is going to turn out.  If you already knew the end result, what would be the point of trying at all?   You could report on our findings without actually experiencing any of it.  When you don’t get the result you wanted, you make adjustments and try again. 

I think real life is the same.

Especially in our 20’s, we have the tendency to over-think everything.  We expect to find our place in the world easily, and don’t consider that it can take a lot of trial-and-error.  When every decision is huge, permanent, and earth-shattering, we live in constant fear of making the wrong choice.  We are afraid of dating the wrong person or moving to the wrong city or taking the wrong job, because we are adults after all.  Adults are supposed to make good choices and stick with them. 

This is not to say there’s no such thing as the wrong person or the wrong city or the wrong job.  But we are not fortune-tellers, and sometimes the only way to learn is from experience. The wonder of our lives lies in the fact that even after we’ve failed, we have the ability to re-write, to edit, to revise.  

We need to figure out for ourselves what works and what doesn’t work. 

We can take risks and try things, knowing we will learn from our choices.  We also can know that we are not making these decisions alone.  God is sovereign and all-knowing, but he also gave us autonomy.  If we know the character of God and desire to please him, we have the freedom to shape our own lives.  We can let this autonomy empower us to attempt great things, or we can become paralyzed by fear. 

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said: ”You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

Sometimes when we experiment, we stumble upon greatness.  We become risk-takers and creatives and entrepreneurs.  When when we have taken the time to figure out what we are meant to do, we can become the best versions of ourselves. 

So what are you afraid of? 

 Whatever it is, we need to come to terms with the fact that we might not succeed.  Things might not work out the way we plan.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  Live as an experiment.  Even when we fail, there is always hope. 

Becca Nelson is a music teacher who recently left Chicago behind for the mountains of western Guatemala. Her current hobbies include squeezing into tiny over-crowded buses, painting, writing, and smiling and nodding when other people speak Spanish much too quickly. She writes at For Want of Wonder where she is hosting a blogging series called Life Experiments.  You can also follow her on twitter @beccaliz