Valuable life and business lessons learned from my dad

There are two biggest lessons that I learned from my dad that I believe made me the person who I am today and shaped the way I look at business and life. I didn’t know that one of them I could learn only after my dad’s passing.

Some call it a peak life experience, some key moment in your life. Basically it is a time, when something happens in our environment or life to us, and it triggers us to make a decision about how things are going to be in our lives going forward. How we are going to look at things or people, or the way we are going to be.

One of those experiences I had as a little girl, maybe 9 years old. Who would have thought that one dinner time conversation could have an impact on how I live the rest of my life.

There we were, my dad and me, sitting at a round dinner table in our small dining room area. My mom was doing some things in the kitchen, me and my dad sipping our hot soups, sitting across each other. My dad was not happy. He was grumpy, looked exhausted, was working even on Sunday and was complaining about how his client had all kinds of new requests on the project and even didn’t want to pay enough for the job. My dad started his own business right after the Velvet revolution, which marked the end of Communism in the Czech Republic. Rumor had it that he was the first one from our small village to apply for a business licence under a new democratic regime. He was a room painter, occasionally the whole house painter.

My mom’s response to his complaining was “Well you decided to have your own business, so now don’t complain and don’t stress me out. I am already stressed out about me having to work in the kitchen tomorrow – I need to wake up at 3.30 am which is in a few hours, to be at work at 5 am, and then slave in the hot steaming hospital kitchen for 12 long hours. So you don’t complain to me.”

The stress, resentment, exhaustion, even anger was felt in the air. For a moment, you could hear only sounds of the soup spoons hitting the plate interrupted by quiet slurping. Then me, as I couldn’t stand the tension, decided to see if I can make my parents feel better. I said to my dad: “Well maybe you can ask for more money and then you would feel better? Why don’t you say something to that client?” Solution seemed so simple through my 9 year old eyes. He got upset. He said “You, little chicken, want to educate the rooster? You know nothing about business and how things work! So you be quiet!”.

Coaching 101 lesson: “Don’t give an advice unless you are asked for it.” (I wish and probably also my whole family and anyone else I ever provided unsolicited advice for wishes with me I learned this 101 basic lesson back then at that age haha!)

The big life decision came just moments after this. I said: “Well, I don’t know how things work but doesn’t seem to be working so well here! Both of you are so stressed out on Sunday evening, instead of us being here as a family, and relaxing. When I grow up, I am going to do what I enjoy doing and I am going to be paid for it!”

Both of my parents started laughing. Surprisingly. Luckily. There was suddenly something they both agreed on. I was a fool, and just a child that didn’t know anything about the “real” life yet. And my dad said: “Yeah, you will grow up from your childish dreams. One day you will remember this and see we were right. It is your illusion you will be woken up from and you will not like it.”

I was told I was stubborn as a child. I guess they were right as at that moment, I made a decision that impacted my life in a big way. I decided I was going to prove my parents wrong. I decided to work on myself, and go after what I like doing, or, if I need to have a job to survive, then find a way how to make the best out of it, till I can find a better work.

Almost 30 years later, here I am, continuously learning and enjoying what I do for work. My dad was right. I do remember that dinner years ago. I am grateful for them challenging me in truly doing my best to do either what I love, or love what I am doing. And, I get paid for it! It worked!!! I have years of experience to prove it that it’s possible.

Yet, the second biggest business and life lesson from my dad I got only after he passed away. He worked physically really hard for most of his life. Work (aka survival) was on spot number 1. He didn’t have energy to hang out with family, he hardly had any friends (no time, no energy left), his health suffered. As a family, we went to only two family local vacations, and only because of my mom’s work – she got a discount on some trip package from her job and probably that helped convince dad to say yes to it. My mom also convinced dad to go to early retirement. At that time, his health was really bad. He started taking insulin for diabetes, and his heart was not healthy either, besides many other less serious things.

Suddenly, dad had more time to do what he loved. He started reading spiritual books. Learning about many different things. Started babysitting his granddaughters. Started laughing more. Maybe the most I had ever seen him laugh. At that time, I was already outside the country, here, in the USA, while he was in Europe. We reconnected over the internet, email and Skype. We had a few challenging conversations about the past, and we completed it, started healing what needed to be healed. Our relationship transformed. It grew into something beautiful, something I always wanted. I remember him offering to share with me something that he learned so I could benefit. He wanted to contribute to me. He said he cared about me and wished me all the best. There was a 9 hour difference between where he and I lived at that time, and so I emailed him back that I wanted to hear what he had to share with me and suggested a time to talk. I finished my email that I was so happy that we reconnected, appreciated his support, wishes and that I wished also for him to be happy, healthy and that I loved him.

In the US, that may be something being said as a part of “bye bye, love ya” but where I grew up, that was something that was said very rarely. Usually that would be something to say lying on your death bed and you are saying your last words, right after you apologize for the bad deeds I imagine, or you were going to a war, not sure if you were coming back. That was considered to be the appropriate time to speak those precious words. I was the “weird” one, who started to say it without feeling an immediate danger of death coming for me. By that time I sent that letter, I think my dad was getting used to it and was opening up about his feelings too. Yet, it still felt weird probably for both of us to write it. It was something we definitely were not used to say a lot. It was still new. I felt I was just getting to know who my dad really was.

Little did I know that that email exchange we had was the very last one. And the words we said to each other, were literally our last words. The next morning, I got a message on Skype from my sister “Dad died.”

Nobody expected it. His body failed him.

The lesson that his passing taught me, took many many months before it really hit me and I “got” it. I had been through a “burn out” and exhaustion physical and emotional a couple of times in my life already. I didn’t pay attention to it before, as I thought I just needed to get through it. As an immigrant, I knew I had to work hard to make it. There was no family to catch me when I fall. It was only me, getting on my own feet from zero, in a new country. No excuses were allowed. And… I got stable. I grew. I started my own business, got clients. Was getting paid! For doing what I love 😉 I thought the burn out is just a part of the journey, before I know better. It is a part of the struggle.

My dad passed at a time when I was recovering from a major burn out. I closed a mini retail business a few months ago, broke up with a fiance, my health didn’t feel stellar, and because of my work I even didn’t have time and energy for my friends.. Anyone seeing a familiar pattern there? Well I didn’t. I thought because I loved what I did for work, it was ok to put it first. I reached my goals, my dream came true and that’s what matters, right?

Yet I was so burned out that I was afraid to dream again. It took soo much from me, and I sacrificed a lot to get where I wanted, or thought I wanted. One day, it hit me. I thought I was so smart, and I “won” by doing what I love and proved my parents wrong… yet – I was not wise – I was so blinded by doing what I love that I didn’t even realize that there was one very big important piece missing and that basically I am following in the footsteps of my dad. It cost him things that he had only about 2 years to “repair”. Better relationships, health, self care…. all that was put on hold till he retired. And when he finally retired, it was too late for certain things to catch up on.

My dad’s early and unexpected passing taught me another major life and business lesson. I was fitting my life into my business. I was serving my business and everyone around me, putting me and my needs and my life last. I became really present to a possibility, that any of us can leave this world unexpectedly. And that time is ticking even for me. Tick Tock.

That was a moment that I made a new decision about how I want things in the future.

Instead of me fitting my life into my business, I want to see, how I can create one big life (beautiful relationships, self care, health, financial security, contributing to others), and create a business that supports that big life, whatever it is going to look like. Now I am more present than ever before to the importance of setting business goals in a way that support our life, and our core values. It is not about us serving (slaving) to our jobs, or businesses but finding a way to have our businesses (jobs) serve and support us, and support our lives, families and communities.

I want to dedicate this post to my dad. And dad, there is something I know that you know already, but I want to say it anyway since ehm, I tend to say what I feel is important to be said.

“Thank you. I love you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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