Hard Lessons and the Rule of Three

Published March 25, 2019

Easy lessons are ones which have immediate feedback: touching a hot stove, what foods your body is allergic to, or even how to ask for a raise at work. Everyone can put together the cause and consequences of getting them right or wrong.

The hard lessons are ones which take months, or even years, to cycle through. They require a specific environment, many involved people, and time to determine the outcome.

I have found this to be true in both my personal and professional life: hard lessons follow the rule of three. They come to you three times and you only truly know if you’ve learned the lesson the third time.

The first time the lesson is encountered, every day is like every other day. There is nothing new here because I don’t know what I don’t know. When the consequence settles, it stings. Suprise. Outrage. Disappointment. At my best I have had enough time to outline the situation and think to myself, “I will never do this again.”

The second time I’ve learned enough to identify this is the second time this has happened. Paralells can be drawn to the first situation and the current. I am filled with equal amount doubt (is this really happening again) and hope (I can do better this time) which prevents me from walking away. The sting hurts more this time because I was supposed to know better.

The third time almost always occurs in perfect conditions. In occurrence one and two, I’ve identified the common factors which had caused the problem. I think, erroneously, if those conditions don’t exist next time maybe it’ll work out. Sure enough, the third time: they don’t exist.

I’m being tested. It’s tempting because this time I know a lot better and I’ve identified the problem. I say no and the reason why doesn’t matter. I will no longer seek it.

The peace of mind is the reward for a lesson finally learned.