All You Own Is Your Experience

By: Naomi Matlow

“What saves a [hu]man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

From workplace environments, interpersonal relationships, to political affairs, the concepts “lack of ownership”, “being blindsided”, and “blame” are often thrown around. Perhaps, it’s because they are easy talking points or it’s an easy way out of a provocative question. However, the heart of the matter may be one of the most profound questions for how we go through life. If you don’t take ownership of your actions, you can never be at fault when something is not executed according to plan. How can we grow if we are not at fault?

Upon thinking about the concepts of ownership, values, and personal assets, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the current conversations storming through my Instagram feed and Youtube homepage. That is, all of the commotion around Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. If what we physically own clutters us and takes up space that could otherwise be filled with meaning and joy, no wonder the concept of ownership puts a pit in our stomachs.

The idea of ownership that I am most interested in today is ownership in the philosophical sense; about what it means to own one’s experience and ultimately one’s life. When that realization hit, and for me, it was around age 17 or 18, I was scared shitless. “You mean, I didn’t ask to be here, and now it’s ultimately my responsibility to make something out of this life?” I was too full of teen angst and existential rage to articulate it this way to my parents (I think I just yelled and slammed my door) but at 29 I think I finally found the right words.

The universe puts so much in front of us (and no question, not spread equally among us) and we are given the challenge to take from it what we want or not. For what we learn and what we choose to keep is what we own. A terrible fight with a friend will undoubtedly happen at some point along this path, whether it was your fault or not, but how it makes you feel and what you choose to take away from that experience, is yours alone.

Unfortunately, however, ownership breeds attachment and attachment can lead to potential disappointment. Thanks for that damn flipside, Universe. Yet, it’s like when the fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince explains to the prince himself (and to think this was published in 1943!):

One only understands the things that one tames… Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends anymore. If you want a friend, tame me.”

The little prince later learns how “you become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed”. That responsibility brings the little prince anguish, but also the greatest satisfaction, love, and meaning he has ever known or ever thought possible.

Are you willing to let the world tame, or to use a more colloquial word, teach, you? And what do you want to teach others? That deal requires one to completely own their experience and thus surrender to the disappointment and judgments from others that may be encountered along the way. But on the flipside, it is also a surrendering to a completely authentic tailor-made experience that you have made for yourself, and yourself alone. The lows will be yours but the highs will be all yours too. Furthermore, it is a life that cannot be duplicated. It cannot be repeated. It is all yours and can only be cultivated by you.

So, how do you want to own your experience?

Source: The Morgan Library & Museum, New York.

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