Lived Experiences

Its hard to codify lived experiences. And sometimes I struggle with how we use and acknowledge lived experiences be it the term or an actual lived experience.

We hear the term “lived experience” often, especially in the Student Affairs field. So what exactly is it? I dug back into my undergrad days to one of my honors courses where we had to study philosophers and sociologists and pulled this from a text by Wilhelm Dilthey, a German sociologist, psychologist, and philosopher:

“…term for what is immediately given to individual consciousness regarding one’s own thought and feeling. It can also be used for the experience which orients a person’s self-conception and around which an individual life organizes itself. Through lived experience, the meaning of a particular life history unfolds. We can understand society as our world on the basis of our lived experience of the forces that move society.”

Wilhelm Dilthey

Now, there have been variations on the appropriate use of lived experiences. Some indicate that it refers to all individuals and their experiences which form their self-concepts. Other definitions and uses indicate that only minority or disadvantaged identities can have lived experiences.

For me, I approach lived experiences from the understanding that all individuals have lived experiences that form an individual’s self-concept.

With that premise, I struggle with our Student Affairs Facebook Group. We submit lived experiences and talk about them, but we don’t give time to understand them. And many times we’re so intent on sharing our individual lived experiences we can’t hear our colleagues and friends’ lived experiences.

To hear someone’s lived experience is just that. Listen purposefully and without comment regardless who’s sharing and acknowledge their journey and experiences that have formed their self-concept to that moment in time.

To understand someone’s lived experience means that it is in conflict or agreement with one of our individual lived experiences and we have to work through that to come to a new self-concept. That takes time and rarely can we have purposeful responses within moments of hearing another person’s lived experience.

Self-concepts change. The self-concept I had when I graduated college almost 10 years ago is vastly different than my current self-concept. But I had to hear and process lived experiences of those similar and vastly different from me to bring me to my current self-concept.

I had to listen to my straight family members’ self-concepts of sexual orientation. I had to understand both my white and Asian friends’ self-concepts in order to come to grasp with my self-proclaimed conflicted Asian identity. I had to hear my colleagues and superiors’ views of what it is to be a Student Affairs Professional before I could mold my own image.

I struggled with this. I wanted to be right. And as the person coming out or struggling as an adopted Asian raised by white parents I wanted to be the voice that was right and educated others and to bring awareness to my struggles. But I realized that I couldn’t effectively share my lived experiences without understanding the other’s lived experiences. If I didn’t stop to hear and understand, I wouldn’t know how to express my own experiences and have a purposeful and compassionate exchange.

It’s impossible for us, as humans, to not be hurt or upset at times from someone’s lived experience that conflicts our own. But if we really want to make change for the better for the world, our field, ourselves and each other we have to sit with one anothers’ lived experiences and acknowledge them and not dismiss them.

In short: Facebook posts shouldn’t blow up within seconds. Why do we not take our own advice and sit with what’s been shared and purposefully process? Sometimes I think we are too quick to act; not because we truly understand and give dialogue to the conversation or education, but rather we are too busy showing that we are allies and the “perfect” professional and we miss the point of authentically engaging with one another.

I’m not perfect at this, and no one is, but I process and learn best when I write and I hope that you process with me and help make our work with both our students and each other the most inspiring and compassionate it can be.

Until next time

Peace, Love and Pandas!


Special Thanks to Carly Masiroff (@cmmasiroff ) and Myra Lumpkins (@MySunshine2U ) who were awesome editors for this post and helping me out with it!



“lived experience.” The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy. BUNNIN, NICHOLAS and JIYUAN YU (eds). Blackwell Publishing, 2004. Blackwell Reference Online. 12 May 2016 <;



Published by Brian

I am currently the Assistant Director of Student Life for Registered Student Organizations and Late-Night Programming at Michigan State University. After earning my B.A. from the University of Michigan-Flint, I entered the Student Affairs profession. After a few years in the field, I returned to school and earned my M.A. in Educational Leadership-Higher Education Student Affairs from Eastern Michigan University. In my spare time I blog about my thoughts and musings on current issues in higher education, student affairs, digital worlds, identity development and general life inspirations and observations. I also volunteer a lot for my fraternity and multiple regional and national professional associations.

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