12 Life Changing Lessons My Dad Taught Me
Posted by Michael Vacanti
You can be faster than Matt Overman.
I was 13 years old.
From the passenger seat I stole a skeptical glance of my Dad’s face while he drove.
He looked honest.
Which was crazy. Matt was fast as hell and the perennial captain of the “A” team.
I was just cut from the program – no, not the team – the entire program.
Not really believing my dad but appreciative for what felt like a loving vote of confidence, I swallowed and nodded slightly.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment would change my life.
I) Winning Matters
Show me a “good” loser and I’ll show you a fucking loser.
Growing up in a generation that values participation over competition, I was lucky to have my dad.
A strained hip flexor?
Ice it. Rest it. And when game time comes tomorrow, take some advil, apply some Icyhot and go skate and hit people and score goals.
You don’t complain. You don’t make excuses. You go win.
II) Debt Will Kill Your Soul
Being ultra-rich won’t make you happy.
But having enough money is absolutely paramount. It provides freedom and security, and it alleviates stress.
So, in an era where parents mindlessly harp on the importance of college for 18 years only to force their kids to take out loans and chain themselves to the man indefinitely, I would be remiss not to mention this.
My dad worked his ass off in our one-income family to pay for the overwhelming majority of my four year undergraduate degree.
Being 100% debt free just six months after graduating college gave me the mental and logistical freedom to begin pursuing entrepreneurial ventures.
I cannot understate the importance being debt free at 23 had on my life.
III) Pick Your Head Up
No, literally, pick your head up.
And retract your shoulder blades. Quit dragging your feet too.
Sadly, I was too upset with my triple bogey on eleven to heed Dad’s advice while we waited for the five-some on the 12th green to stop dicking around so we could hit our approach shots.
Who knows… had I listened, I might not be working overtime today on thoracic mobility and external shoulder rotation.
But you know what’s even more important than how your shoulders feel when you bench press? Nothing, literally nothing.
But seriously: your posture signals to others who you are.
Without diving into a psychology lesson in business and dating, one for which I am thoroughly underqualified to give, let’s agree that standing up straight and looking people in the eye is better than the alternative – moping around wondering how you pulled two tee shots out of bounds on a par three.
Thank God for match play at least.
IV) Own Your Income
I lost my job today
His words hung in the air.
No one said anything.
My mom and sisters and grandma stood around the center island.
My dad looked at the ground.
I had never seen my dad look at the ground when he talked.
If you ask me, he felt ashamed. If you ask me, he felt like he let us down. If you ask me, my dad believed in his heart that he was failing his role as provider.
When in reality, he was operating in a broken system.
It was 2008.
Forget MBS, bailouts, and Goldman.
Those may have been media-proclaimed scapegoats for that crash, but this system is still broken.
The Federal government controls the Money Supply. Politicians are incentivized by reelection rather than the public interest. Not to mention everyone on TV is lying to us all day long.
Now, let me be clear, never once did my dad complain or point a finger of blame.
But in the years since his unemployment stint, I have begun to notice these things; these implied rules that force you to look a certain way and behave a certain way and play within certain invisible boundaries – never acting too different – or you’ll be on the outside begging for a job.
Performance reviews aren’t based on performance; they are based on your likeability.
There is no “secure” job. There is no company loyalty. There are no gold watches at retirement anymore.
All of this led me to the following conclusion: having the ability to make my own money is the only option for my life.
V) The Cream Rises to the Top
“Just look at Casey Hankinson. He stayed home and played with his buddies. Now he’s captain of the gophers.”
We stood on the first tee of a father/son golf tournament.
My grandpa and uncle Jeff were going back and forth.
Play at home, or go to prep school?
You need Shattuck or Ann Arbor to get noticed; NHL scouts won’t find you playing high school.
My dad interjected, “You stay home. And you play with your best friends.”
Because the cream always rises to the top.
Sure, you can get noticed by being the loudest.
Beat your chest, promote your ebook, and tell everyone you’re the greatest over and over and over.
Biz dev, go to the right parties, rub elbows with editors, join affiliate circles, and donate to whoever’s charity it takes for a spot on Good Morning America to promote your Ginko Bio OMG Super Rare Never-Been-Seen-Before fat loss supplement.
And people will recognize you on the street. And you’ll get rich. And you might even date a few super insecure supermodels. But guess what:
You won’t be the best.
When you blow up because your work is so painfully good that everyone who sees it is needs to share it, that’s when you’re at the top.
VI) Be A Caretaker
In college, my uncle Mark was blind-sided over the head with a two by four.
He suffered tremendous brain damage, spent a long time in a coma, then lived the rest of his life completely blind. And when my Uncle died twenty years after his accident, it was my dad who delivered his big brother’s Eulogy.
My dad was obviously suffering, but you wouldn’t know it.
Rather than embrace the mindset of a victim, I watched him spend his time and energy taking care of everyone else’s sorrow: his parents’, my sisters’, and my own.
Everyone relied on him because he is a leader and he’s clutch under pressure.
Because he’s a caretaker.
VII) Treat The Pauper Like The Prince
My dad asks cashiers about their day.
He calls waiters and waitresses by their first name.
He compliments janitors, and he once told me that he tries to make someone’s day everyday.
Watching this my entire life has made me internalize the following:
Your character can be determined by the way you treat people who can’t “do anything for you.”
VIII) You’re a Man – Fucking Own It
In today’s feminized society, many previously valued masculine qualities are often deemed bad or dangerous: aggression, competition, and independence to name a few.
We confuse integrity with politeness, being good with being nice, gender equality with gender same-ness.
Boys and girls are the same!
No, boys and girls are not the same. Boys and girls are fundamentally, hormonally, and psychologically very different.
And while much of the explicit guidance I received growing up was how you treat your four younger sisters, how you talk to your mother, and how you behave towards women in general.
There is an implicit gift in having a positive masculine role model; an understanding that even though my teachers say I can’t run and can’t yell and can’t roughhouse – to be man and to display masculine qualities is neither wrong nor bad.
IX) Ignore Everyone
You have a new comment on your wordpress post.
I had launched my blog four weeks earlier.
It was getting 25 page views per day but somehow also a flurry of angry comments.
- “Burning bridges isn’t smart – you’re never gonna make it”
- “What’s with all the foul language??”
- “What are you gonna do when we have another market collapse?”
- “You can’t do fitness on the internet”
Through tears of doubt and massive uncertainty, I deleted comment after comment.
It was just three days after moving to New York City – with nothing but a laptop and two pairs of clothes – to work an unpaid internship for John Romaniello.
I slumped out of my apartment in need of fresh air.
Walking through the upper east side on that perfect May afternoon, my stomach was so knotted that I couldn’t appreciate the beautiful weather, let alone all of the attractive women sending what a friend would later teach me are called please fuck me eyes, an extended seductive stare as you cross paths on the sidewalk.
I sat on a bench outside Starbucks on 75th street and tried not to puke.
Looking down at my phone through blurry eyes, I called my dad.
I don’t remember his exact words; my dad usually fights fire with fire.
I do remember him empowering me to be unapologetically myself.
I remember him encouraging me to listen to my own voice.
And I remember him telling me that negative feedback usually has more to do with the person GIVING the criticism than the work itself.
All of which left me with the following maxim:
Maintain a small circle of people you fully trust, and ignore everyone else.
X) Pain Is Optional
I was eight years old.
My teeth sunk into his arm.
He didn’t even wince.
I released, giggled, yelled “say uncle!!” and bit into his flesh again.
He was unfazed. He never conceded.
He never even showed pain.
At the time, I thought he was superman.
That was important.
If we talked about this today, he would call himself dumb and meat headed.
But he’s wrong.
My dad did feel pain; his brain is just tougher than his body.
He demonstrated supreme mental toughness.
With the knowledge that you control your own limitations, think about all you can accomplish:
- your progress in the gym
- the efficiency of a study session
- the total hours you put into your craft
Your brain owns your body, not the other way around.
XI) That He Loved Me
And that he was proud of me.
He told me this every single day of my life.
He instilled a belief that I mattered and that my life mattered and the decisions that I make are important – that my actions not only change my life but can change the lives of others.
And that changed everything.
XII) You Build Your Own Future
Study longer hours, get better grades.
Write more blog posts, get more traffic.
Lift heavier weight, get bigger muscles.
Surprisingly, there are people on earth who don’t believe they can improve. They give up quickly when challenged. These people are said to have a fixed mindset.
Their counterparts have what is known as a growth mindset. The belief that through patience, effort, and open-mindedness their potential is limitless.
My dad gave me the belief that I control my own fate; he gave me a growth mindset.
And while I may have ended up playing intramural beer league after high school while Ovy went D1, the lesson I learned while cruising north on highway 100 that early winter morning was one of many gems from dad that led me to where I am today.