The 7 Lessons I Want to Teach My Son About Life…. And Business

Today my son turns 8 months old. It’s been quite a ride so far. What started out as this tiny ball of human who did nothing but eat and poop for the first several weeks has evolved into an individual with thoughts, feelings, preferences and personality. Man, does he have personality. He prefers certain toys over others, he completely disrespects our little Cavachon, Lucy, while squealing with delight when our 10 year old Lab mix, Duke, so much as looks in his direction. He hates to share his Ella’s Kitchen apple sauce, but thinks that pears are gross. He also, strangely, loves to watch football and is really into the Kansas City Chiefs (sorry buddy, maybe they’ll win in the playoffs next year). You get it. He’s turning into a person.

While there are so many frustrating things that come with parenthood, such as a loss of sleep (those of you who have babies that sleep through the night need not comment), personal freedom taking a backseat to diaper changes, and a myriad of other grievances that others are better equipped at describing than me, it’s the most life changing and rewarding thing that I have ever experienced. For someone who isn’t a “kid person,” every day is an adventure with him and my newly established anxiety disorder thanks to him is offset by being extremely proud of who he is becoming, even at 8 months old.

This is my first experience around babies in any real capacity, so I’m learning on a daily basis.

The kid is always watching. Whether I’m eating, working or speaking with others, he is always observing me. He is learning through my actions. He also mimics. You wave to him and he waves back. This is my new norm. I’m just waiting for him to start barking with the dogs when someone comes to the door.

As he gets older, he will continue to watch and emulate me. I do not thrive on being a role model, but it’s my responsibility to be, at least for my son. Whether it is how I treat his mother or the generosity or anger that I could parlay at a complete stranger, all the way through how I conduct my business, he will be watching. That’s a lot of pressure.

When my baby was still just an eating-pooping-screaming machine, my mother in-law said that all she hopes for him is that he turns out to be a good person. At the time, I scoffed at that. “He needs to be a man!,” I thought, goodness be damned. But, as he gets older, I get it. Fortunately, I can play a role in this by being a good person (or trying to be) myself.

In order to achieve this, I have to watch others in how they conduct themselves. I watch people like my sister, who is a great mom. She is a good parent for many reasons, but the one that stands out to me above all others is that she listens to her son. My nephew, Aaron, is 14 years old and one of the nicest, most thoughtful and intelligent people I have ever met. I watch him interact with his mom and it’s an obviously special bond. She listens to him and vice versa, despite the fact that he’s a teenager. He also still watches her and how she conducts herself. My sister is a photographer, so working closely with people and making them feel comfortable in their most vulnerable moments is something that she must herself excel at to have a successful career. People have told me that she makes them feel special and…the best part? Aaron is oftentimes there, on the set, soaking it in. Whether he chooses to become a photographer, astronaut or video game developer, it doesn’t matter, because he’s learning the value of treating people well and making them feel good about themselves. No matter what he chooses to do, he will be successful because of it.

So, as my son continues to become more aware of his environment and the big, scary world that surrounds him, it’s equally important to not allow that world to swallow him up. I will attempt to teach him how I live my own life, and hopefully, it will be at least a small building block to pursuing whatever success will mean to him. These are a few of the principles that I attempt to show through action:

  1. Treat everyone well. No matter who you are or what you do, you are not better than anyone else. Once, when I was a teenager and out to eat with my parents, I was rude to a server at a restaurant. My mother let me have it. A lot. In front of everyone. She instilled in me that I am no better than anyone. No matter my lot in life, successful CEO or burger flipper, everyone is equal. This is a lesson I carry with me today. In today’s ever growing wealth gap and growing uncertainty, it is a lesson that I am determined to teach my son. No matter where he ends up, everyone, including himself, deserves respect.
  2. Be good to your mom (and dad). Looking at the women in my life, I am constantly in awe. My wife sacrifices so much for our son to make sure that he is well taken care of, happy, healthy and exposed to all of the good that life has to offer. My mom sacrificed everything for her children, oftentimes working 15–20 hour days at a job that she disliked, but never complained about. Yet, she somehow never missed an important event. My sister is the same way. My mother in-law is the same way. It’s easy to forget how much our moms do for us, but their contribution should never be understated or undervalued, no matter where you are in life.
  3. Prioritize what is important. I’m someone who can become obsessed with work, and winning. I can spend 24 hours straight working on a project that excites me. Making a living is important. Following your passions is great. But, prioritizing is key. I want my son to understand the importance of a balance between his responsibilities, his interests and his family. For me, that’s participating in my son’s nightly bedtime routine. For him, it might be something completely different. Whatever it is, there must be a balance.
  4. Don’t be a jerk. This one applies to the business world as much as anything. As I recently wrote, people can be jerks in the business world. I know several people in the business world who have stepped on others or buried them in the name of getting ahead. I hope my son (and you) believe me that this is not a viable shortcut. You may be able to get away with being a jerk for a little while, but at the end it’s never pretty. I used to work for a VP who got ahead by making others look terrible. Eventually, he was exposed for being a fraud (and jerk) and was let go. Spend the time to build relationships, learn your job, think outside of the box, and you will get much further ahead in life.
  5. Be thankful. The smallest tokens of appreciation can go a long way. If someone does something good for you, show them your appreciation. I am constantly in shock at the nice and generous things that people do for one another. In a world full of chaos, find the small things to be thankful for.
  6. Never give up. Life can be challenging. Jobs can be awful. Relationships can be brutal. Having the ability to know when to walk away is not quitting. It took me a very long time to understand the difference. In fact, I earned a law degree only because I perceived walking away as quitting. Quitting is a way to stall your life, your career, and even lose the important things in life. Being successful isn’t about being smarter than anyone else. It’s about “doing it.” Successful entrepreneurs aren’t always smarter than the average joe, they just have more chutzpah.
  7. Know the difference between compassion and weakness. It’s one thing to show kindness and understanding to others. It’s another to be taken advantage of. Far too many people, including myself, are afraid to show compassion out of fear of appearing weak. Think about it. How many times have you said no to your child so that you don’t come off as weak? In a professional setting, to appear powerful, you hide your understanding side in favor of commanding respect. There is a balance and it’s tough to find it. You cannot allow yourself to be taken advantage of, but you also have to be human. If someone is struggling, help them. Professionally, build a culture that helps one another. Professionals like Costco’s co-founder, Jim Sinegal, in explaining their view on culture, shows that he gets it and is an inspiration to the rest of it. This worldview is largely why Costco is so successful, while other retailers are struggling so much.

These seven lessons may sound straightforward, but they can be difficult to learn and incorporate in your everyday life. For now, I’m going to do my best to cut down on my swearing (ha), try to eat healthier and be the father and the role model that my son expects me to be.