Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Learn From Mistakes: An Object Lesson

I still hold a conviction that I held when I began this blog: There are two characteristics that I believe a wise person possesses: (1) A good sense of what is appropriate--whether word or deed--in any situation, and (2) the ability to learn from the mistakes of others without making the same ones. Those are two goals I try to keep before me.

I just stumbled across something in my desk that I thought I could share with you. It is a mistake of mine that you can learn from.

I hate this key chain.

Though I hate it, I'll never get rid of it.

Here's the story:

When I was 10 years old, my family would frequent Gatlinburg, TN around 3 times per year for mini vacations. One of my favorite stores was a hologram store. I've always been a sucker for technology.

They had incredible holograms that were poster-size. They had all kinds of things. One was a hologram of a set of binoculars, looking into some scenery, and if you lined up with the binoculars, you could even look through them. They were awesome, but they were terribly expensive. A little too expensive it seems, as the store is long since closed.

On this particular trip, as usual, my parents gave my sister and I each $20 to be our spending money. We could use it however we wanted. I was so taken by the holograms at this store, I thought I really had to have one. The only ones in the entire store within my price range were the key chains. I picked out the one with Saturn on it and decided that I wanted it. My dad gently suggested, "Now Mark, if you get this, that will be all of your spending money. We're going to be here for two more days...are you sure this is what you want to do? You won't have any more money to spend."

I was sure.

So about an hour later, we're riding in the car back to the hotel, and I'm looking at this key chain. In the store, the lighting was perfect, and the image was brilliant. But in the dim back seat, it was only blurry. More than that, I was only 10. I didn't even carry keys. What would I do with a key chain? Buyer's remorse kicked in big time.

I began to tell my parents that I thought I wanted to see if the store would take it back. But my parents wouldn't let me. Perhaps had we gone, the guy would have let me return it, perhaps he wouldn't. Either way, they made me stick with my decision to spend all of my money on a small, hologram key chain.

But I learned a valuable lesson. I've known lots of parents who would have just bailed their kid out, and given them more money. Mine didn't. I had to agonize over the remorse that comes with spending everything you have on something you don't necessarily even want or need. It was agonizing for them not to prevent me from making a bad choice, they told me later. But they let me make the choice, then let me suffer the consequences. To this day, I am thankful to them for letting me learn from this stupid decision, though at the time I was pretty upset.

Not that I've never bought things I didn't need since then. Not that I haven't made some other impulsive blunders. But there is wisdom that comes from regret. As I was sitting here paying some bills online, thinking of some things I wish I could have sooner than I can afford them, I saw this key chain again beside me, and remembered.

Good parents are worth more than their weight in gold. Letting your children make mistakes isn't necessarily bad for them.


  1. Really outstanding post, Mark

  2. Thanks! I've used it a couple of times here and there as a sermon illustration, and it's one of the ones I've known people to really take with them.

    One father told me that when his son was thinking about buying something, they would say, "It's one of those key chain things." They have continued to use it as a reference. That makes me feel good.

  3. I've been saving this post since it hit my RSS feed and I'm glad I did. I plan on printing it out and saving it for any needed occasion.

    Thanks for sharing!