Oswald Letter

Experience: What You Get When You Don’t Get What You Want

I saw a sign the other day that read, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” It sounded pretty true to me. Sure, you get experience when you succeed, but if you think about it, the truly valuable lessons are learned when we don’t get what we want.

This short line on the sign may have resonated with me more right now because of something that occurred last week. You see, my 13-year-old son didn’t make the eighth-grade basketball team. It’s not a life-altering event — unless you’re a 13-year-old boy. Then it’s absolutely huge.

So we’ve been trying to work through the disappointment of all of this for the last week. For the first time in his life, he didn’t make an athletic team that he had tried out for. We’ve been trying to find the good in it, which frankly has been hard to do. Let’s face it, when your kid is hurting your natural reaction as a parent is to protect him. This little sign reminded me that there was something good that could come from him not making the team.

Here’s my hope. I hope that this sign is right. I hope that my son has gained experience that will pay off for the rest of his life. I hope that not getting what he wanted will cause him to grow as a person, one who is better equipped to face life’s difficulties.

So what can he learn from not making the team?

Life isn’t fair. That’s a great lesson for him to learn. Sometimes things happen that aren’t fair. In this case, a boy with less talent than many who were cut made the team. He wasn’t the coach’s son or nephew, he just happens to be a six-foot-tall eighth grader. He doesn’t have the talent, but for a coach, it’s hard to cut a kid who could turn into a seven-footer for the high school team.

Hard work and dedication don’t always pay off — at least not right away. Brayden spent a lot of time and hard work to improve as a player. It just wasn’t enough. As one of the coaches said, “he cannot control how much he grows.” I believe that hard work and dedication do pay off. Maybe not with a spot on the basketball team, but something else good will come from it. It always does.

If you want something badly enough you will continue to fight to get it. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Brayden has two choices: he can give up on basketball or he can work harder and try again next year. Some things are worth fighting for. I hope that after getting knocked down, he’ll get back up, dust himself off, and get back in the fight.

You don’t have to let others define you. When Brayden learned that he hadn’t made the team his first reaction was that he was no longer a basketball player. That’s only true if he accepts what the coaches conveyed by their choice to cut him. But he can choose instead to believe in himself, to believe that he is a basketball player, and to not be defined by what others think.

He’s strong enough to overcome adversity. As I said, this hasn’t been easy for him to accept, but he has survived. Maybe he’ll see that he has the inner strength to handle difficult circumstances. If character is defined in tough times, then some of his character may have been revealed to him this week.

Are there lessons for all of us in the disappointment of a 13-year-old? I think so. All of us face daily challenges. We don’t always get what we want. Life isn’t always fair. It’s the difficulties that you face that build your character and make you the person you are. Experience comes from living and especially from not getting what you want.