learn the hard way

learn (something) the hard way

 and find (something) out the hard way
to learn something by experience, especially by an unpleasant experience. (As opposed to learning in school, from reading, etc.) She learned how to make investments the hard way. I wish I didn't have to learn things the hard way. I found out the hard way that it's difficult to work and go to school at the same time.
See also: hard, learn, way
References in periodicals archive ?
During a crisis they may finally learn the hard way that they can't do it all and that they shouldn't try," Porras advises.