I’ve been known to point out to my daughters that they are just like me. They don’t like that. “I am my own person.”
My father recently passed. It has been hard. Yet, I’ve come to understand that what he taught me is molded into who I am today. While he wasn’t a businessman, his life lessons helped influence me to start my business 30 years ago. That was a time when it was unusual for a woman to start her own business. No one in my family came from a career in business. Yet because of the way that I was brought up, I never thought twice about doing it.
My father had an amazing 95 years of life. Born during the Depression, a Jewish World War II vet who helped the US army liberate the first concentration camp that the Americans came upon, he was lovingly married to my Mom for 67 years. My father was an electrician by trade. My Dad was the first feminist I knew. My father didn’t believe in gender specific jobs. His three daughters all had their turns mowing the lawn or doing the dishes. I learned by example that I could do anything I wanted in my life.
My Dad would always help out a neighbor now and then and wouldn’t charge them for his time. It may be a reason why deciding billing rates has never been my forte.
My father always seemed to have his priorities straight and never seemed to waiver. I would like to share some of the life lessons that I learned from my Dad. Some of them more successfully than others…what can I say? I am still a work in progress.
Decide what is most important to you, go for it and forget the rest (it’s just noise and distractions).
My father seemed to have perfected this. Coming out of the war, he decided that he did not want to continue pursuing his accounting degree that he started before the war. He didn’t want to sit behind a desk. He wanted to work with his hands. He started out as a TV repairman and eventually became an electrician. He didn’t take the “safe” choice. My dad enjoyed what he did until he retired at 65. We lived a simple life. We never wanted for anything, (although I did want that telescope when I was a kid). I learned not to care about things and made family my focus instead.
My father used to say all he needs is food on the table, a roof over our heads and money for a few vacations. And he lived up to that. He didn’t care about keeping up with the Joneses (and I grew up in an area with lots of Joneses). He had all he asked for. He used to brag about sending the four women in his life to college, his three daughters and his wife. (My mom went back to school when I was old enough to be home alone.)
This gave me the courage to start my own business. Ignore the distractions and just do what I am passionate about. By following this advice, I am certain there would be happier people in their jobs.
Work hard and be accountable for yourself and your actions.
My Dad always owned his mistakes and took responsibility for them. He worked hard to keep food on the table and give us a better chance at life. He never made excuses for himself and didn’t tolerate them from us. My earliest memory of this is my Dad owning the fact that he was not going to be able to discipline with spankings. When he spanked my oldest sister for something she did when she was little, my father ended up feeling worse about it than she did. He said that he learned from that experience that he should not use spankings to correct our behavior. So as the youngest, I was the happy recipient of a spankless childhood.
That made sense to me (being accountable as well as having a spankless childhood). If I want credit for something that I’ve done well, shouldn’t I also have to take credit (the blame) when I mess up? To me, owning my actions is the only thing that I can control. When I admit to a client that we messed up, I remove the denial out of the discourse. The client is often expecting the denial of any wrongdoing and therefore starts building up the arsenal for defense. Taking ownership makes the defense unnecessary allowing us to both work together and find the solution.
Do your best and then work to improve.
I am your classic overachiever. When I would get a 96% on a test, my Dad would ask why not 100%. When I got 100%, he said why didn’t you get 101%? I never took it as pressure because I know that isn’t how it was meant. He always wanted me to do my best. Period. I took that lesson and built on it.
After running my company for 30 years, I’ve learned that things to do not always go well. While I have not made my “killing yet,” I have done my best and continue to tweak so that I can always improve. If I don’t continue to strive to improve and get to 100%, nothing changes. So I keep trying to improve and when I get that C, I try harder and work to change. I am not striving for perfection but I am striving to do/be better in the things that matter the most to me.
My Dad worked hard but he knew how to have a good time. He had shpilkes (Yiddish for ants in your pants). He always liked to be active and doing something. My Mom was the planner and together they managed to stay busy every day after my Dad retired. Once he retired, my Mom would ask my Dad the same question every day… “Do you want to work or do you want to have fun today?” Every day he would say have fun and off they’d go. They led a full life.
When things get rough at work, I need to step away. Whether a weekend getaway or a vacation, this does something to refresh me to the point where I truly feel that I am ready to tackle anything when I return. It is easy to view life one way when you are in the midst. Vacations give your brain a break to reset and gain a different perspective. Business is not my whole world. I may enjoy what I do but I enjoy lots of things.
It’s never too late.
This one was from my Mom. My Mom never worried about “what she was supposed to do.” If she wanted to do it, she did it. When my Mom was in her mid-40s, she went to college for the first time. She had always wanted to go and decided that when her youngest was old enough to come home alone (yes, I was a latch key kid) from school, she could do it. She loved it. She made a group of friends of women that were doing the same thing. Best lesson ever! Too often I hear someone telling me about why they can’t change careers or they can’t start a new venture. I don’t believe it is ever too late to start something you are passionate about. I truly believe that the main obstacles that people face are the ones that they put in front of themselves.
Take pride in your accomplishments.
My parents were my biggest cheerleaders. One of the things that I continue to work on is to enjoy my successes. This one has always been a challenge for me. I don’t take the time to celebrate. Yet, every time that I would see my parents, they would ask about my work. Every time that I would see my parents’ friends, they would tell me how much my parents would share how proud they were of my accomplishments.
In work, whether a small accomplishment or the completion of a successful project, make sure that you remember to celebrate both your own accomplishments and the teams. It truly is appreciating the small things that helps motivate people to want to do better or improve upon a success.
My Dad taught me the importance of living a full life.
I already miss my cheerleaders.