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All I Really Needed to Know I Learned From My Dad

It's Father's Day! While out on a stroll with my son this morning, I got to thinking about my dad and everything he's given me in the form of love, time, and wisdom. While the importance of love and time cannot be overstated, it is perhaps his wisdom that has served me the best in my adult life as life has become decidedly more complex.

Let me start by saying that my dad's a smart and thoughtful guy. He's not necessarily book smart or climbing-the-corporate-ladder smart -- in fact, those things are decidedly NOT his jam -- but he's real world smart. He's owned and operated his own small businesses, served on the board of directors for a small bank, and built a prosperous life for his family. In his more glamorous days, he was a "hero of the Northwest," parachuting out of planes and fighting forest fires as a smokejumper. But beyond his varied experiences and accomplishments, he's consistently practical, empathic, and reasonable -- qualities I certainly aspire to in my life.

My dad also happens to be a fan of aphorisms, and he repeated many of his favorite (mostly original) ones throughout my childhood. At the time I was pretty sure he was just trying to annoy me, but gosh darnit, they began to ring true as I got older. Nowadays, barely a week goes by where I don't think of, and take comfort in, one of these nuggets of truth. I figured Father's Day was the perfect time to share them with a broader audience and besides that, we could all you a little advice, optimism, and perspective during this truly nutty time.

So without further ado, and in no particularly order, here is a sampling of my dear old dad's most useful maxims:

“The worst they can tell you is no” I was terrified to ask for anything when I was younger despite my dad repeatedly telling me this. As I got older, it became apparent that I was missing out on many opportunities and I got a lot more comfortable asking for things, be it something as small as a better table at a restaurant or something as big as a raise. Turns out the worst-case scenario really isn’t that scary.

“All any of us get paid for is solving someone else’s problems” But really, just think about it. I always go back to this when I’m wallowing through a tedious project, answering an annoying client inquiry, or flat out just don’t feel like doing work. And then there are other people’s problems that we don’t even get paid for solving (hi kids!), but they pay us in smiles, snuggles, and entertainment, no?

“There’s always a trade-off”

My dad was an econ major in college, but this is an important concept for everyone. The sooner you accept that you can’t have it all and that you’ll need to make strategic decisions based on your priorities, the better off you’ll be.

“If that’s the worst thing that happens to you today, you’re in great shape”

I like this one so much I included it as my favorite quote on my application to Princeton nearly 20 years ago. It’s easy to get bogged down in what is wrong with our lives but in actuality, life is really pretty good for most of us. It’s all about perspective!

“There’s no last best deal”

All too often people feel pressured to make commitments because they don’t want to have FOMO. Guess what? Life’s full of opportunities and there will invariably be another great job, client, house, relationship, etc. coming down the pike. It might just take a little patience and faith.

“All you can do is make the best decision with the information you have at the time”

I can be painfully indecisive and I hate pulling the trigger when I don’t have all the data points, which is problematic since that is most often the case. My dad’s advice is a helpful reminder that nearly everyone else is operating under the same circumstances.

“Life isn’t fair”

Oy vey. I used to have smoke coming out of my ears when I was a teenager and my dad would tell me this. But you know what? Life isn’t fair and it’s never going to be. You may as well accept it, make the most of your opportunities, and be the change you wish to see in the world (thanks Gandhi).

I hope these made you smile and nod, and that perhaps the most relevant one will come to mind the next time you face a hard decision or let out an emphathic groan. I have failed to get my dad a proper Father's Day present, but I'm sure he'll consider seeing his pithy one-liners memorialized on the internet to be the best gift of all. He's just that kind of guy.


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