4 min read

It's hard to replace experience

If you speak Spanish, you know "pinche loco mujeres" means something like "f^!%$*# crazy women." It's not a kind thing to say in general, and yet if I throw this out in casual conversation to a friend of mine we immediately understand it as part of something we both experienced.

Once upon a time in a Tex-Mex restaurant.

We worked at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Kilgore during college. It was a long commute from our campus, and we worked weekends and Monday nights. The crew who waited tables varied by shift, with most of the lunch servers working at the restaurant for years. The night and weekend crew were more our age, and the kitchen was staffed by immigrants from Mexico.

I took a couple of years in Spanish in high school, which meant if the kitchen crew slowed down and talked to me like a very small child I understood a little bit. After working a year at the restaurant, I was able to string together short sentences for the cooks and dishwashers. They only doubled over laughing when I really messed up a word or two.

Every one of the cooks was one of the hardest working people I've ever known. They guy who ran the kitchen worked four 14 hour shifts at the restaurant, and one 6 hour shift. On his days off he worked for a tree cutting service.

He ran the entire kitchen service with his little brother, who worked the same schedule.

There were a couple of dishwashers, but we usually worked with a guy named Tomas every weekend. Tomas didn't speak any English, but most of the time we could figure out what we needed. If he didn't understand me, he'd ask one of the other guys to translate for us.

One night, we were running through our closing routine. Me and my buddy had worked in neighboring sections, so we were splitting duties. While we were cleaning up, we heard another server getting loud in the kitchen.

This lady normally worked during the day, and she was trying to get out of mopping the bathrooms. She'd already asked Tomas to get the mop bucket ready, and once it was ready she told him he needed to mop the bathrooms.

Now Tomas had a list of stuff he needed to get done to go home too, so he was being really nice by getting the mop water ready. He told her no, he wouldn't mop the bathrooms.

Then the screaming started.

To avoid busting into the middle of everything and ruining a good scene, we snuck around to the other door and watched from down the kitchen as everything went down.

By this point, she's still yelling and it's clear Tomas has had enough. After about fifteen more seconds, he snatches the mop bucket up off the floor and raises it above his head. At the top of his lungs, he yells "Pinche loco mujeres!!" and sends the mop bucket sailing.

To use a gif of the moment, we were all like...

After that, this lady pretty much avoided saying anything to Tomas.

It's hard to replace experience

This story has gone done in the annals of our friendship as a touchstone, something we can always bring up and laugh about.

For you, you might remember it but it'll never be as funny or important. The experience of the story makes it special to me.

You have skills and perspective you've built over years, and it's easy to assume everyone knows the things you've learned. The reality is there are people who know way more than you on most topics, and there are even more people who could learn from your expertise.

The key question is, how do you effectively pass on your experience?

Remember what it's like to be a beginner

I'd never expect anyone to get this story it if I threw "pinche loco mujeres" out in a casual conversation. You know when an inside joke or experience doesn't translate, and so most of the time you avoid using them when someone isn't in the know.

In other situations, it's easy to forget where our experience ends and where it begins for someone else. I didn't take any marketing or business classes in college. For years, one of the few things I'd write down in meetings were terms people threw around that I wanted to learn. Especially funny acronyms like:

  • EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa)
  • ARPU (Annual revenue per user)
  • MMR (Monthly recurring revenue)
  • Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg)

Those are just a few things I've scribbled down to look up later when I was back at my desk.

The people throwing these terms around often assumed everyone in the meeting knew what they meant. When you have experience with a topic it's easy to forget how much you've learned.

In college, I took music theory for a couple of years. My professor sat us down one day and told us that one-day people were going to look to us as musical experts. We'd be in church, or helping out with our kids school, and someone would learn we took music theory. It didn't matter if we were professionals. The fact we had spent time studying music automatically qualified us to people who had never been formally trained.

His advice to us was to act like an expert, even if we didn't feel like one. There would always be people who were better trained or more qualified, but in that situation, we were the expert at hand because of our training.

You might not always feel like an expert. When people turn to you to learn, remember what it was like to learn about the thing they want to know. There will always be someone better qualified, but they're asking you because they see you have something to teach them.