Anyone who spends even a bit of time with my father quickly realizes his idiosyncrasies are sitcom-worthy – harmless and hilarious all at once. For instance, I’ve been in the same office for nearly a decade now, and each time my father visits he brings a shopping bag – this week’s was one from the Nordstrom’s half-yearly sale – filled with random office supplies that my stepmother has likely urged him to throw out. Instead of getting rid of them, of course, he truly believes I can find use for them… and passes them along to me.
This week’s “gift”? A label maker from the mid 1970s in – wait for it – original packaging. This poor label maker made it through one cross country move and at least two California household moves in original packaging. Clearly, my father refuses to follow Marie Kondo’s advice on finding joy – or maybe, instead of throwing things away, he simply brings them to my office to share the “joy.”
But I digress. Over the past few years, I’ve thought a great deal about how my work has been so focused on helping students build their own blueprint for success rather than borrow someone else’s. I’ve talked about the importance attitude and approach in encouraging a child to his or her own vision of success, even when that vision may seem muddled, and may completely change course. Sometimes supportive parenting is about listening, asking open-ended questions, being positive and encouraging children to dig deep and find the solutions within them.
When I think about where I learned that most, I know my father’s role was uniquely important. On this Father’s Day, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on three different moments where my father’s attitude and approach made all the difference in helping me design my own blueprint for success.
When I was five years old, I wanted to be on a soccer team – sounds simple, but there were no girls soccer teams in my rural northeastern Connecticut town in the early 1980s. So, my father thought nothing of petitioning to have me join a boys team, and then spent Saturday mornings fielding soccer balls as the assistant coach for a team with circumspect athletic abilities. What I remember most was that it was no big deal – I wanted to play, and his attitude was, “Go for it!” He helped me figure it out at a time when I was too young to do so for myself. I actually never thought twice about the fact that I was the only girl on the team until the mayor’s wife came up to me after a game and remarked how brave I was (I think – or hope – she was referring to the fact that the ball had just hit me in the head).
It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized how my father’s “Go for it!” attitude allowed me to dig deeper when things didn’t go as planned. A few months after graduating from college, I told my parents I wanted to start my own business and “just do my own thing.” This was sixteen years ago, long before entrepreneurship and self-employment, freelance and start-up life were a way of life for many. Most of my classmates were focused on attending graduate school and/or getting jobs with companies offering benefits and retirement plans. There were far fewer (if any) NYTimes stories focusing on women and entrepreneurship.
But, in a short six month period since graduating from college, I moved (temporarily) to NYC for investment banking analyst training, took the train into the World Trade Center up until two weeks before 9/11, and had an emergency appendectomy after taking myself to the ER at 4 am on a Saturday morning in NYC (and completely thought I was going to die). Then, in November 2001, I was laid off from my banking analyst job along with about half my analyst class. The post-9/11 time for a recently laid off recent college grad was bleak for many reasons, and so when I told my parents I wanted to do my own thing, I was surprised by their two simple questions:
“Can you pay your rent?” Yes.
“Do you have health insurance?” Yes. (side note: it was much easier – and cheaper – to buy a single plan those days. I think it cost $90 per month).
“Then go for it.”
I think of that conversation often, especially when I see recent grads and young adults get advice that takes them away from their intuition and their own sense of purpose. I knew I wanted to write, travel, and help people, and was lucky to have a severance package that I could use to start my own business. I liked my job (still do!) and my work has evolved in ways I could have never expected back then. But I know that my father’s encouragement at that critical moment made a world of difference. He didn’t have the answers (and definitely did *not* provide any financial backing – ha!) but he knew I could figure it out. His positive attitude and realistic enthusiasm freed me from taking on any extra anxiety or concern, and allowed me to spend my energy finding solutions rather than fighting off doubts.
And finally – in September 2008, I called my dad from the corner of 17th and Broadway in NYC after finding out I landed a book deal with Perigee, a division of Penguin (now Penguin Random House) for my first book, That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week. I am fairly certain he had no idea what that really meant, or what a big deal that was for a twenty-seven year old with very little published writing experience, but I distinctly remember his response, “NO KIDDING!!!” His excitement was palpable. He had very little idea on how I had worked to make it happen, but knew that was my dream and was happy for me.
My third book is coming out in August, and this one – Social Media Wellness: Helping Teens and Tweens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World – was by far the most difficult to write. I re-wrote the entire draft from scratch. I had surgery (I am fine). I dealt with crazy happenings. And even through everything, my dad was like, “Just finish the book already, everyone will be happier – including you!” That was the version of “Go for it!” that I needed.
I know my father is proud of me (I know this because he tells me *all the time*), and I also know he believed in my ability to design my own blueprint for success from the beginning. He never subscribed to one version of success, and when something didn’t work out, he encouraged me to refocus to find something else that would come together. His optimistic wisdom and gracious determination has made all the difference.
So, for the father who reminds me to cook at home (it’s healthier!) and to drive safely when it is raining, thank you for always believing in my possibilities. Your attitude and approach has meant the world to me.
And also, please stop bringing me office supplies disguised as Nordstrom half-yearly sale purchases. But I digress.
Happy Father’s Day.