Even at the ripe young age of 83, my dad is still fixing vacuums and sewing machines as part of the repair business he started 30 years ago after retiring from a career at Western Union.
He no longer runs the business from a shop, and he certainly is nowhere near as busy as he once was -- due mostly to the fact that you can replace the devices far easier then repairing them -- but he still manages to pick up a job from time to time to keep himself busy.
His business and entrepreneurial aspirations had a lasting and (I would like to think) positive impact on me. In my business, as in my life, when I find myself in a conundrum, I often default to asking, "What would my dad do?" Inevitably, I will recall one of these lessons:
1. Quit complaining. Complaining solves absolutely nothing. In fact, more times than not, it just compounds the problem. My dad is the most optimistic person I know, never uttering a negative thing about anyone or complaining about his work.
He even stays neutral in political conversations. He always has a zip in his step and a generous helping of affection for everyone. Even today, as I have become older and more crotchety, he is quick to force the conversation into a more productive tone.
2. Appreciate what you have. One does not make a fortune fixing vacuums and sewing machines for a living, though my dad always seemed to provide enough to make us all happy. More importantly, he made certain we all realized how fortunate we were to have what we had, a modesty I still carry with me today as I sit in my hot office typing on old, refurbished furniture.
3. Frame and control your message. My dad was a marketing genius. He was profoundly good at negotiating because he could turn negative concerns into positive attributes almost magically.
This might be most true with my birthday, which falls on Christmas Eve. By most accounts, this is a terribly inconvenient and unlucky time of the year to be born, but because my dad always reinforced how "lucky" I was to have a birthday so near Christmas, I never thought twice about it. Even today, I am giddy about my birthday.
4. Make time for those you love. It did not matter what my dad had to do or how exhausted he might be, he always made time for me and my brother to throw a baseball or integrate us into his household chores, something we loved to do.
He taught us that there will always be time for work, but rarely time for others, and he would remind us that when we die, we will not regret spending too little time at the office.
5. Give more than you take. My dad helped everyone, often at the expense of his business. I can remember numerous times when someone would visit his shop and inquire about something simple, such as a new vacuum bag or belt, which he often would give to them at no charge.
Even at a young age, I understood that if you run a business, you should charge people money for what you do. He always pointed out, however, that little displays of kindness go much further than nickel-and-diming people. Later, I understood this more, as I learned that most of his customers were repeat clients.
6. Wake up early. My dad rarely slept in. Regardless of when he went to bed, he was always up before us. He was typically engaged in some household chore before he slipped off to the shop. I would later learn that he did that so his afternoons would be free to spend with his family.
7. Nurture close relationships. My dad does not have a great number of friends, but the ones he does have been around for as long as I remember. I learned from him that you should never take your closest colleagues or best friends for granted. They require just as much attention and respect as your family.
8. Watch your cholesterol and your mind. For as long as I can remember, my dad has maintained a healthy diet and remained very active. He also reads and keeps his mind sharp. The benefits of taking care of your body and mind, starting at an early age, are undoubtedly clear. Like him, I too hope to act 20 years younger well into my twilight years.
Bonus: Take a nap. We both recently discovered the incredible value of a power nap, although his are a bit longer than mine. Take naps. You will not regret it.
My dad and I share a similar background. We both left established corporate jobs to start a business. Neither of us had any experience in the industries or businesses we started, and for the most part, we both have had a bit of success in our entrepreneurial endeavors.
The difference is that I had my dad as a role model, and he had nobody -- which in my mind makes his courage and accomplishments much more admirable.
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