My father died on February 20. Ever since the day I received the news, I’ve been in varying emotional spaces: of course, deep mourning, but deep reflection, too. The latter has been both surprising and incredibly healing.
I was fortunate to have my father present throughout my entire life. As a child, I knew what time he went to work and when he’d be back home. I knew what shows he liked to watch on T.V., and the foods he liked to eat. Early on, he made a promise to me and my siblings that’d he always be there for us. He never broke that promise.
Daddy maintained a responsibility to impart in each of his children all the wisdom that he knew. He took this role very seriously. He told us many stories from his past and tips for living that he acquired along the way. He was deeply invested in making sure that his kids didn’t repeat his mistakes.
In reflecting on our relationship these past few months after his passing, I’ve grown to appreciate the universality in many of his words of wisdom. I didn't realize this before, but my father’s advice has unconsciously shaped many of the major decisions I've made in my life, and has helped me navigate challenging situations with a resolve to thrive.
As a business owner especially, his words have echoed in my spirit as I make attempts to grow and build. Maybe they can echo in yours, too? Below are six of my favorite lessons. Take time to soak in themー I'm confident that there's magic in each one.
1. Winners never quit, and quitters never win
From music to writing, my father always, at the very least passively, encouraged my creative pursuits. There was never a pressure for me to engage in anything that I didn't have a strong interest inー especially sports. Still, he set one rule: “Once you're in something, you're in it.” Machismo or athleticism doesn't make a strong personー but persistence is an essential ingredient. My father taught this early on, and encouraged me to stick things out, especially when things got tough. This insistent determination is one of the only reasons why I continue to navigate the world with possibility, and not resentment.
So much strength comes from simply aiming to stay afloat.
2. Speak thoughtfully
Daddy was a selective talker– there wasn't a need on his part to fill spaces with empty words. When he did want to share one of his stories or give advice, he'd often call me over and tell me to sit down. I then had to listen to what I thought at the time were very long lectures. Often, I’d stare at the floor as he gave me the beginning, middle, and end of a story, then a reflective lesson for emphasis.
Still, it wasn't about him being right; it wasn't about him wanting to hear himself talk. He wanted to explain; he wanted me to understand his points fully. Though restless, I didn't leave his “lectures” feeling annoyed. Because he talked with careful deliberation, I knew where he was coming from, even if I didn't agree with everything he said.
Though goals like garnering an influx of revenue might feel more important for a brand, there is tremendous value to working hard at being understood, especially in the beginning phases of growth. Where does your business inspiration come from? In what ways can your idea help shape the world? When one takes time to develop their story by answering questions like these, they create room for passive viewers to transform into loyal followers. Emotions need context– stories give your audience a sense of place, one in which they can step into.
Who knows? They then may have difficulty leaving it.
3. Don’t take life too seriously
My Dad gave me a nickname the day I was born: Smooshie. He said I came out like one long noodleー there seemed to be no end to me! Then, I kind of squished up. So Smooshie, he thought, seemed fitting.
As Smooshie grew up, he noticed how Daddy often had a lighthearted approach to very tough situations. Quoting scripture, he told us kids to “be wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove.” Stay calm. Stay rooted. Things will work out.
And so many times, even when there wasn't a lot of food in the house and we weren't sure how bills would be paid, this lightheartedness helped us stay emotionally in tact. We prayed, then watched Star Trek: Next Generation, or went to the movies. We did these things because our faith taught us that God would provide. We needn’t be afraid, and we needn’t worry.
When one is knee-deep in a situation, it can seem like it's the only thing that matters. But life is filled with many layers, and many new beginnings, even in unpredictable areas like entrepreneurship. A step back may help one see a problem with new eyes; a moment of laughter can help curb the habit of unnecessarily magnifying an issue.
As Daddy showed often, joy is an effective weapon of resistance. Lean on it often.
4. Education is vital
The first lesson in this post, that winners never quit and quitters never win, was inherited by my father from Coach Morgan Wootten. When Daddy attended DeMatha Catholic High School, Coach Wootten gave him many words of wisdom that he never forgot. For my dad's funeral, we were honored to have Coach Wootten write a few words of condolences. I know Daddy would have been overwhelmed with gratitude at such a thoughtful gesture from a man he admired greatly.
Learning from Coach Wootten, my dad taught me the importance of wisdom. He prodded me to continue my education, to ask questions, and seek wise counsel. Following in his footsteps, I spent a year at DeMatha, and gained lifelong friends in the process. Though my education went down different, unconventional paths after that year, I've always maintained a deep desire to stretch beyond my mental limitations. There's always more to discover, and the openness I learned from Dad has given me sets of wings I never thought I could grow on my own.
As a creative entrepreneur, I need to be in a constant state of discovery– it's imperative. Sustainable success comes with learning the ins and outs of one's field, and with perfecting crafts. Both are never-ending processes.
5. Acknowledge a higher purpose
For better or worse, church was arguably the biggest influencer in my family’s daily dynamics. Both my parents are devout in their Christian faith, so every decision seemed, in at least some way, shaped by a prayer, scripture verse, or talk with a pastor. God being seen, felt, and heard regularly left me equal parts inspired and tramautized-- I’m still unpacking both.
On the side of inspiration, however, I maintain a palpable sense of mysticism regarding my life’s direction, and the role I play in charting its course. I simply don't believe that I'm always at the helm, and have had more than one serendipitous moment to support that theory.
Of course, my father believed this theory, too. He encouraged me, as scripture says, to acknowledge the Lord in all my ways, with the certainty that He will direct my path. The belief that Someone, somewhere will eventually make sense of all the convoluted roads life travels down often grants me inexplicable peace. It has allowed me to move forward even when things don't make sense. And it has taught me to honor the voice within as sacred. If religion is only helpful for those few aspects, to that I say Amen.
Great brands are often driven by a higher mission, which galvanize their employees and enchants their customers. Nike, for instance, doesn't just make shoes– they sell determination, discipline, and the encouragement to "just do it," no matter what. Like a church, they promote ideals bigger than themselves. Though we're all on varying spiritual spectrums, acknowledging truths beyond the surface is often a common denominator that most can resonate with. When a brand taps into that, there is a wellspring of evocative ways for them to soar.
6. Ask yourself “How bad do you want it?”
When I was around age 11, I told my dad that I wanted to be a fiction author. I longed to create worlds like the ones Lois Lowry and Chaim Potok invited me into through their books. My dad looked at me and said something to the effect of “How bad do you want it? If you want it bad enough, you’ll figure out ways to get there.”
It was as simple as that. When it comes to a goal, “I can’t...” or “I’m not...” shouldn't be in your vocabulary. If you want it bad enough, the primary question that needs answering is “What do I have to do to get it?” This question is not answered with excuses or complaints. It’s not asking for anything other than clear instructions.
What if you don’t have the full answer? That’s OK. Start with what you know, and with the intent to build. Use what you have around you. Ask for help. Sacrifice free time or extra money. Give it everything you’ve got.
Over time, I’ve buried many dreams under piles of excuses. I’ve let fear instead of true desire dictate decision after decision. But lately, as I reflect on my father's words, I've renewed my commitment to seeing my dreams, even the buried ones, come to fruition. I wasn’t raised to be a quitter, and now is as good a time as any to truly embody my father's advice.