JUN 19, 2015

How to Succeed in the Career of Life: Lessons From My Dad


After ten years of working in advertising and marketing, I’ve had time to reflect on the people who have made the biggest impact on my career. “Dad” may seem like an obvious, almost-too-easy choice—the figure who is most often associated with delivering abstract life lessons while you’re in your childhood and teenage years; the one who coaches you through those inevitable highs and lows as an adult. But my dad is in a league all his own, a person who continues to be my greatest teacher and inspiration. Here are just a few things he has taught me along the way.

9-to-5 Doesn’t Exist (and that’s okay!)

My dad worked at ad agencies for many years, which only perpetuated his night owl tendencies. He never saw his unpredictable schedule as something that prevented “work-life balance,” rather, he incorporated work into his family life in a way that exposed me to his creative thinking and process.

In the house where I spent a good portion of my childhood, my dad’s den had two drafting tables. He would sit at one, sketching new ad layouts while I sat perched at the other, scribbling away on one of his numerous giant pads of paper. His rows of fancy art markers were perfect, his Pantone guides much more interesting than my childish storybooks! At the time, I was blissfully unaware that what he was doing was even considered “work,” since he seemed to enjoy it and also took so much pride in anything he created.

Find the Career You Want

After spending more time in the agency world, my dad found himself at a toy company where he oversaw package design and various aspects of marketing. Despite the (seemingly) fun and dynamic work environment, my dad decided there was more he needed to experience outside of the corporate world. At the time, he was nearly 50 years old and decided to quit his stable job to pursue his dream of becoming a tennis instructor. Less than a year later, he got his USTA certification and began teaching at high schools, rec centers and other places in California.

Continue to Reinvent Yourself

Fast forward a few years and my dad then decided to pursue another dream of his*, to complement his teaching: launching and maintaining his own Etsy shop. He had always been passionate about woodworking and wanted to start selling a line of handcrafted, customized boxes and jewelry holders. The problem? Each box takes him hours to make (he is a perfectionist, after all!), and he then sells them at a price that doesn’t begin to cover the labor or materials. Family conversations about said boxes usually goes something like:

“Dad, this won’t scale! You are the only one that knows how to make them!”

“Is that the same box you’re still working on?”

“Are you sure the lady told you she wants a custom box for her bird’s ashes…?”

To my dad, growing the business and making a profit are far from what he wants to get out of this endeavor. In his Etsy profile, he states: “I’m following my passion and enjoying the creative journey!”

Dad, thank you for leading by example and truly embodying what it means to follow your life’s passions. I am sorry I never became the tennis superstar you had hoped…

…or maybe it’s not too late after all?

*Other hobbies of my dad’s that didn’t quite turn into actionable dreams:

  • His RC car phase
  • His RC airplane phase
  • His fly fishing phase
  • His roller hockey phase (which was during my high school years, so I remember this one well)
  • His pizza oven phase (this is ongoing and I’m dying to get home so I can try some!)
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