Lessons my Dad Taught Me

Lessons from my Dad

Yeah, that's me in the middle, in 1989 – the year I left home to go to school and start living on my own. My dad had been talking about this day for years…”when you turn 18, the funding stops, and you go figure things out…”

It was his way of telling me and my brother that we were expected to not only go to college, but to learn “marketable skills” (a phrase he used consistently in our home) so we could provide for our own families. We could study what we wanted, as long as it wasn't “underwater basket-weaving.”

In many ways, the rest of my life has been the result of those first 18 years at home. And as I now raise my own two, I can't help but stop, on Father's day, and look back on the lessons my dad taught me growing up.

My Dad's Rules

  1. Everybody works. You have to put in 8 hours a day.
  2. We always get our work done before we start playing.
  3. If you finish your work for today, get started on the work for tomorrow.
  4. Learn to kick with both feet. Yes it's hard work. So?

Are you catching a theme? Yeah, for all the people who wonder where I got my work ethic…that's right. Dad.

Other Lessons my Dad Taught Me

But there were other lessons that weren't rules. They weren't statements he made daily. Instead, they were the things I noticed when I watched quietly – without him noticing.

  • At a party, tell the best stories. It will get you invited to more parties.
  • Work hard, but take family vacations and spend time playing just as hard.
  • Tell the truth – even if there are consequences you won't like.
  • If you see something broken, fix it. Don't just complain from the sidelines.
  • Do things right. Even if you give up your entire summer doing it.
  • Say what you're going to say. If you don't know, plan ahead.
  • They're your family – take care of them.
  • Nothing good is easy right away, so practice.
  • Even as the ball is coming over the net, get your racquet back.

I'll admit it, I didn't always see the value of these lessons in the moment – especially running around a tennis court with my racquet back. But in time I realized it was not only a tennis tip but a metaphor for being prepared.

He'd talk investments and planning for my future. That was long term.

He'd talk about carrying an extra $10 in my wallet for emergencies. That was short term.

I still don't know what emergency it would solve, but I try to keep some money available at all times, because he was right about most everything else.

The Biggest Lesson I Learned

Carol Dweck has done some great research on the effects of either acknowledging a child was smart vs that they worked hard. You can also read a condensed version in the amazing book, Nurtureshock.

To cut to the chase, people do better when they're acknowledged for their efforts and hard work than their innate skills or brain. In my family, my younger brother was the “smart” one and I was the “hard worker,” according to my dad. At the time, I didn't think too much of it. It was said enough that I just took it at face value. Each had its merits.

But over time, in our own family microcosm, we proved Dweck's research. I developed a growth mindset because of my dad. His recognition and articulation of my hard work, along with those consistent messages about the value of work, reinforced one reality for me.

I was not limited by my innate intelligence or giftedness.

I could increase my skills thru dedication and hard work. And as a result, I fell in love with learning and grew to embrace the kind of productivity that comes from consistent learning and personal growth.

Another set of 18 Years

If I learned these lessons over the first 18 years of my life, then there's another set of 18 years that's benefited from a growth mindset. That's been the 18 years since I joined Berkeley Lab after graduation and started working with the web.

I don't think I could have sustained the last 18 years in an ever-changing industry if it wasn't because of my dad. He gave me a growth mindset that enabled me to keep sipping from the firehose that's been web technology.

So the next time you see my dad, do me a favor, give him a big hug for me. I'm down in San Diego. He's up in the San Francisco Bay Area.

But he's family. So take care of him for me!

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