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The most important business advice my dad ever gave me

(Editorial) The most important business advice and life advice I ever got was in the form of some tough love that I didn’t understand until adulthood.

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Above are several photos of my father and I over the years – in the horrible blue dress, I’m a teenage bridesmaid at his brother’s wedding; in the amazing champagne dress, he is walking me down the aisle on the best day of my life; and as a blonde, he was there when I converted to Catholicism about the same time he did. My brother and I were raised by a single father for much of our lives, so he and I were very close, and I used to get in fights at school over whose dad was smarter (I obviously won).

I idolized my father as a child, because he was one of those smartassy, cynical people that taught me to think critically. One of my favorite inappropriate sayings of his that I never understood as a five year old was, “do you know where you can find sympathy? In the dictionary between ‘shit’ and ‘syphilis,'” and he most certainly meant it. Even when you had a boo boo.

But this tough love wasn’t the best advice my dad ever gave me (although it ranks pretty high up there), no, it was more simple.

“Go look it up.”

That’s it. That’s the best business advice and even life advice that my father ever gave to me.

“Daddy,” I would ask at age four, “what does ‘cajoled’ mean?”

“Go look it up.”

“But I can’t read…”

“Go look it up.”

I would ask as a teen, “Dad, what does it mean when someone’s rights have been abrogated?”

“Go look it up.”

Before Google, I would ask, “Dad, how do I get to South Lamar? How do I add this oil to my car?”

“Go look it up.”

If I didn’t understand my homework, I would ask, “Dad, how do I solve for x?”

“Go look it up.”

I was reading at a third grade level at age five and my poetry (which was terrible, of course) was published by age four. I studied my ass off in school and got into an amazing college, and I eventually became the writer I had always wanted to be. I still have a torn up dictionary that I was given at age five – you know the old one… the hard-bound red Merriam-Webster, and it has notes, highlights, and many, many words circled in pencil.

In the photos above, Dad and I are arm-in-arm, but he was not one to prop me up along the way, but for my own good. In our house, there were no shortcuts. No one was a helicopter parent. There was no reliance on anyone but myself. There was to be no laziness. There was no homework done for me. Most importantly, there was never an answer given, even when I was stuck.

So when you’re having a tough time with a client, go look it up. When you can’t figure out what tax software to use, go look it up. Need to improve your networking skills? Go look it up. When you have a fleeing thought about something you’re curious about, never remain curious. Go look it up.

Just go look it up.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Tinu

    February 3, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    I’m thinking if you got published at 6, your poetry was not terrible, LOL. But that’s life-changing advice. It’s a short way of saying “you’re self-sufficient and I believe in your ability to find the answer without bothering me” LOL. Shows a great deal of trust and confidence in you and your talents. I can see why that would be your favorite.

    My equivalent from my father, to boil it down to a sentence would be “the only boss that will ever love you is you.” Which was technically wrong since my first job was for my Dad at 11. 🙂

  2. Dennis Fassett

    February 3, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    Yep – my mom used to tell us the same thing! We of course contented it with our kids.

    The other thing they told us – second place is just the first loser.

  3. chrisshouse

    February 4, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Your father sounds amazing! That is good advice and I really wished I would have done that with my son but I one of those I will help people…but he turned out OK and he uses mostly tough love on my granddaughter and at 11 she is pretty strong and very smart…I have to tell him tonight about sympathy. LOL…I am glad you shared this story!

  4. Pingback: 8 dad entrepreneurs share how they balance work and life - AGBeat

  5. Jodi Holzband

    May 7, 2019 at 11:35 am

    This is great advice and a sweet love letter to your dad. He sounds like a hilarious and great person. It’s also helpful as a mom to remind me not to do everything for my kids. The way you learn is by doing it yourself!

    • Lani Rosales

      May 7, 2019 at 7:32 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, Jodi! As a parent, I’ve found it very difficult to implement – it feels cold to say “go look it up” for my personality type, so I had my own adaptation… when one of the kids ask, “how do I spell rambunctious?” my response is always “how do you *think* it is spelled?” and let them work through it themselves, offering affirmation when they get it right. 😀

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Opinion Editorials

The offensive myth of getting laid off being a blessing

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There’s an age-old trend in news to look for rags-to-riches stories. People love to hear about someone who’s down on their luck scraping together a genius idea and, through sheer grit (it seems), finding the motivation to finally strike out on their own and realize their dream.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Person X is laid off from their long-time but unfulfilling office job, say at an oil company in Alberta, or a marketing agency where their good ideas are consistently shot down.

What seems like a situation to for despair is actually an opportunity in disguise— see, with their newfound freedom Person X has the ability to fully commit to their small business pipe dream.

In fact, the story goes, getting laid off was actually the best thing to ever happen to this person.

This story is a myth.

Although I don’t want to discredit anybody who has had the willpower, luck, and resources to succeed at launching their business, there are many people who are laid off who are truly in critically terrible times.

The insidious underlying message of this myth is that anybody who is truly devastated by being laid off is being weak or lazy.

It serves to alleviate the guilt of those who may have survived the lay off themselves; it helps organizations justify the fact that they might have had to let an otherwise good employee go for their own, corporate-level problems.

The characteristics that many of these laid-off-turned-successful-entrepreneurs have in common are the same sort of privileges that many take for granted – health, youth, a personal support system to help keep the lights on, and an established network of people that can be turned into a market of clients.

What happens to the many workers who are victims of ageism when they are laid off in favor of younger, less expensive workers?

What happens if you’re laid off and you can’t use your newfound time to work on your business plan because you’re raising young children?

The entrepreneurs who find opportunity in being suddenly jobless were probably already on their way to striking out on their own, with their being laid off acting as the defined starting point for a plan they might not have known was forming in their heads.

If you, a friend, or a colleague have the unfortunate luck to be laid off, don’t let this myth get under your skin.

It’s okay to have a rough time with a huge life event that is absolutely terrifying and difficult.

Hang in there.

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Opinion Editorials

3 things to do if you *really* want to be an ally to women in tech

(EDITORIAL) Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce.

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More and more women are leaving their positions with tech companies, citing lack of opportunity for advancement, wage gaps and even hostile working conditions as some of the reasons why.

What’s better for the tech industry and its employees than cultivating inclusive and diverse departments? Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce. To name a few:

1. Be open to listening to different perspectives.

It can be awkward to hear so many reports of workplace politics stacking against women, especially if you’re not a woman!

Instead of getting uncomfortable or defensive – ask open ended questions and be interested in a perspective that isn’t yours and may be unfamiliar.

Don’t seek to rationalize or explain the experiences you’re hearing about, as that can come off as condescending. It’s common for women to be interrupted or spoken over in team gatherings. If you notice this happening, bring the conversation back to where the interruption began. Offering your ear and counting yourself as responsible for making space will improve the overall quality of communication in your company.

Listening to and validating what women have to say about the quality of their employment with a company is an important step in the right direction.

Expressing something as simple as “I was interested in what you had to say – could you elaborate on your thought?” can help.

2. Develop an Employee Resource Group (ERG) program.

An ERG is a volunteer-based, employee-led group that acts as a resource for a particular group of employees. An ERG can help to foster inclusiveness through discussion, team-building activities and events. It’s common for a department to have only one or two women on the roster.

This can mean that the day to day feels disconnected from concerns commonly shared by women. disjointed it might feel to be on a high performing team, without access to relatable conversations.

3. Be responsible for your company’s culture.

Chances are, your company already has some amazing cultural values in place. That said, how often are you checking your own performance and your co-workers performances against those high standards? Strong company culture and values sound great, but whether or not they’re adhered to can make or break the mood of a work environment.

Many women say they’ve experienced extremely damaging and toxic cultural environments, which lead to hostility, frustration, and even harassment. Take action when you see the new woman uncomfortable with being hit on at team drinks.

Call out those who make unfriendly and uncouth comments about how women perform, look, or behave.

Setting a personal threshold for these kinds of microaggressions can help you lead by example, and will help build a trustworthy allyship.

(This article was first published here in November, 2016.)

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Opinion Editorials

How the Bullet Journal method has been hijacked and twisted

(EDITORIAL) I’m a big fan of the Bullet Journal method, but sticker-loving tweens have hijacked the movement. Worry not, I’m still using black and white bullet points with work tasks (not “pet cat,” or “smile more”).

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It’s taken me some time to come around to the Bullet Journal method, because it took me some time to fully understand it (I have a tendency to overthink simplicity). Now that I understand the use, I find it very beneficial for my life and my appreciation for pen-to-paper.

In short, it’s a quick and simple system for organization tasks and staying focused with everything you have going on. All you need to employ this method is a journal with graph or dotted paper, and a pen. Easy.

However, there seems to be this odd truth that: we find ways to simplify complicated things, and we find ways to complicate simple things. The latter is exactly what’s happened with the Bullet Journal method, thanks to creative people who show the rest of us up.

To understand what I’m talking about, open up Instagram (or Pinterest, or even Google) and just search “bullet journal.” You’ll soon find post after post of frilly, sticker-filled, calligraphy-laden journal pages.

The simple method of writing down bullets of tasks has been hijacked to become a competitive art form.

Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at this stuff because I dig the creativity. But, do I have time to do that myself? No! For honesty’s sake, I’ve tried just for fun and it takes too much damn time.

With this is mind, this new-found method of Bullet Journaling as an art is something that: a) defeats the purpose of accomplishing tasks quickly as you’re setting yourself back with the nifty art, and b) entrepreneurs, freelancers, executives, or anyone busy would not have time for.

Most of these people posting artistic Bullet Journal pages on Instagram are younger and have more time on their hands (and if you want to spend your time doing that, do you, man).

But, it goes against the simplistic method of Bullet Journaling. The intent of the method.

And, beneath the washi tape, stickers, and different colored pens, usually lies a list of: put away laundry, feed cat, post on Insta. So, this is being done more for the sake of art than for employing the method.

Again, I’m all for art and for people following their passions and creativities, but it stands to reason that this should be something separate from the concept of Bullet Journaling, as it has become a caricature of the original method.

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