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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 - she has 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

Will shopping for that luxury item actually lower your quality of life?

(EDITORIAL) Want to buy yourself a pick-me-up? Have you thought of all the ramifications of that purchase? Try to avoid splurging on it.

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In an era of “treat-yo-self,” the urge to splurge is real. It doesn’t help that shopping – or what ends up being closer to impulse shopping – provides us with a hit of dopamine and a fleeting sense of control. Whether your life feels like it’s going downhill or you’ve just had a bad day, buying something you want (or think you want) can seem like an easy fix.

Unfortunately, it might not be so great when it comes to long-term happiness.

As you might have already guessed, purchasing new goods doesn’t fall in line with the minimalism trend that’s been sweeping the globe. Being saddled with a bunch of stuff you don’t need (and don’t even like!) is sure to make your mood dip, especially if the clutter makes it harder to concentrate. Plus, if you’ve got a real spending problem, the ache in your wallet is sure to manifest.

If that seems depressing, I’ve got even more bad news. Researchers at Harvard and Boston College have found yet another way spending can make us more unhappy in the long run: imposter syndrome. It’s that feeling you get when it seems like you’re not as good as your peers and they just haven’t caught on yet. This insecurity often arises in competitive careers, academics and, apparently, shopping.

Now, there’s one big caveat to this idea that purchasing goods will make you feel inferior: it really only applies to luxury goods. I’m talking about things like a Louis Vuitton purse, a top of the line Mercedes Benz, a cast iron skillet from Williams Sonoma (or is that one just me?). The point is, the study found that about 67% of people – regardless of their income – believed their purchase was inauthentic to their “true self.”

And this imposter syndrome even existed when the luxury items were bought on sale.

Does this mean you should avoid making a nice purchase you’ve been saving up for? Not necessarily. One researcher at Cambridge found that people were more likely to report happiness for purchases that fit their personalities. Basically, a die-hard golfer is going to enjoy a new club more than someone who bought the same golf club to try to keep up with their co-workers.

Moral of the story: maybe don’t impulse buy a fancy new Apple watch. Waiting to see if it’s something you really want can save your budget…and your overall happiness.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer got you down? Does it make your job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment without budget worries.

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Aside from bringing the boss coffee and donuts for a month before asking, what is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes. In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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Opinion Editorials

Minimalism doesn’t have to be a quick process

(EDITORIAL) Minimalism is great and all…but how do you get started if you’re not sold on getting rid of basically everything you own?

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Minimalism. This trend has reared its head in many forms, from Instagram-worthy shots of near empty homes to Marie Kondo making a splash on Netflix last year. If you’re anything like me, the concept of minimalism is tempting, but the execution seems out of reach. Paring down a closet to fit into a single basket or getting rid of beloved objects can sometimes seem too difficult, and I get it! Luckily, minimalism doesn’t have to be quite so extreme.

#1 Digitally

Not ready to purge your home yet? That’s fine! Start on your digital devices. Chances are, there are plenty of easy ways to clean up the storage space on your computer or phone. When it comes to low stakes minimalism, try clearing out your email inbox or deleting apps you no longer use. It’ll increase your storage space and make upkeep much more manageable on a daily basis.

It’s also worth taking a look through your photos. With our phones so readily available, plenty of us have pictures that we don’t really need. Clearing out the excess and subpar pictures will also have the added bonus of making your good pictures easily accessible!

Now, if this task seems more daunting, consider starting by simply deleting duplicate photos. You know the ones, where someone snaps a dozen pics of the same group pose? Pick your favorite (whittle it down if you have to) and delete the rest! It’s an easy way to get started with minimizing your digital photo collection.

#2 Slowly

Minimalism doesn’t have to happen all at once. If you’re hesitant about taking the plunge, try dipping your toe in the water first. There’s no shame in taking your time with this process. For instance, rather than immediately emptying your wardrobe, start small by just removing articles of clothing that are not wearable anymore. Things that are damaged, for instance, or just don’t fit.

Another way to start slow is to set a number. Take a look at your bookshelf and resolve to get rid of just two books. This way, you can hold yourself accountable for minimizing while not pushing too far. Besides, chances are, you do have two books on your shelf that are just collecting dust.

Finally, it’s also possible to take things slow by doing them over time. Observe your closet over the course of six months, for instance, to see if there are articles of clothing that remain unworn. Keep an eye on your kitchen supplies to get a feel for what you’re using and what you’re not. Sure, that egg separator you got for your wedding looks useful, but if you haven’t picked it up, it probably has to go.

#3 Somewhat

Sometimes, minimalism is pitched as all or nothing (pun intended), but it doesn’t have to be that way. Just because I want to purge my closet doesn’t mean I’m beholden to purging my kitchen too. And that’s okay!

Instead of getting overwhelmed by everything that needs to be reduced, just pick one aspect of your life to declutter. Clear out your wardrobe and hang onto your books. Cut down on decorations but keep your clothes. Maybe even minimize a few aspects of your life while holding onto one or two.

Or, don’t go too extreme in any direction and work to cut down on the stuff in your life in general. Minimizing doesn’t have to mean getting rid of everything – it can mean simply stepping back. For instance, you can minimize just by avoiding buying more things. Or maybe you set a maximum number of clothes you want, which means purchasing a new shirt might mean getting rid of an old one.

The point is, there are plenty of ways to start on the minimalist lifestyle without pushing yourself too far outside your comfort zone. So, what are you waiting for? Try decluttering your life soon!

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