Minnows Don’t Grow on Trees: 5 Lessons I Learned from My Dad
My dad has been my biggest supporter in following my dream to run my own business, so I find it most fitting that the inaugural post of Office Hours, The Pocket-Sized Professor blog, should be dedicated to him.
He’ll be the first to tell you he’s not your go-to guy for writing help, but none of what I offer to my clients would be possible if it weren’t for the other things I’ve learned from him over the years. So, before we dive into more insights and anecdotes from my professional life in the coming months, I wanted to share a glimpse into the makings of the magic from one of my heroes.
1. If you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, do something else.
When I think about things that I’ve learned from my dad, this one is usually the first that I think of. It’s something he attributes to his own dad and is one of the greatest pieces of advice I have received from any source to date.
While such an adage could seem self-indulgent at face value, the version instilled in me doesn’t mean to give up on anything that isn’t pleasant. We all have necessary responsibilities that are not “fun” in the traditional sense, and those, too, are worthwhile.
The spirit of this principle is rather to avoid sacrificing your own happiness and mental health for what path “should be” followed, what others are doing, or what might be stable, yet unfulfilling.
Now, don’t get me wrong. As a child, if I made a commitment, I was expected to honor it and see things through to the end. Once my obligation was fulfilled, I was welcome to walk away and opt for something else. The point was to try my best, give new things a chance, and not let down the people who were counting on me to participate, while knowing it is okay to make changes if a given pursuit turns out to not be a good fit.
Abiding by these guidelines has made me a better friend, colleague, and service provider. And, while there were days I absolutely resented this household rule as a preteen, I am eternally grateful that I was taught to follow through, as I’ve seen many others struggle to succeed in school, work, family, and relationships because they simply walk away when things become difficult or are just not fun for them.
I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences working for others in academia and business, and I am grateful for the education and skills I have acquired through those opportunities. But, those endeavors did not afford me the chance to help people in a way that best suited my gifts and abilities to the fullest extent, so I started The Pocket-Sized Professor. This is my something else. And I’m happy to be here!
2. Fancy dinners are overrated.
It’s a good thing my dad provides good food for thought because cooking is not his strongest skill. We once made Ramen noodles together when I was in junior high, and he literally dropped the seasoning packet into the pot of boiling water without even opening it. (In his defense, the directions on the package said, “Add seasoning packet” so technically that’s what happened.)
When he did have to feed us unsupervised, we typically ended up with awesome memories as well as delicious, unorthodox (usually) edible creations. A personal favorite of mine was his signature Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Sandwich.
And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.
You might think that peanut butter sandwiches would have been an easy enough go-to for someone who doesn’t cook, but my dad is more fun than that, so a handful of marshmallows was a necessary food group between two layers of peanut buttered bread.
Sometimes, he’d even scare up some of that creamy marshmallow goo to spread right on the bread. My adult self won’t touch that stuff, but to this day, I still put peanut butter on my marshmallows.
As a child, lunches or dinners with Dad were just a fun time when we got to eat interesting things that didn’t usually make the menu at our friend’s houses. Looking back on these memories as an adult, I realized there was a life lesson baked in as well.
Even if something is outside of your wheelhouse, you can do the thing. Work with what you have, consult the resources at your disposal, and make things happen. You may not take the same path others do, but at the end of the day, having happy kids with full bellies counts as a win. And, speaking of winning…
3. It’s always time to play baseball.
My dad coached my brother’s baseball team more seasons than I can count, and, especially when the kids were younger, they were constantly asking the same question.
Now, you might think they wanted to know the score. If they’re winning.
But you’d be wrong.
The question that plagued these pint-sized players was none other than “What time is it?”
Without fail, my dad would say, “It’s time to play baseball.”
“No, really, Coach! What time is it?”
“It’s time to play baseball.”
This was long before the days when everyone and their toddler had a smartphone in their pocket every waking moment, and I never really knew what the preoccupation with time was for these 8- or 9-year-olds, but the message my dad was conveying to them was to be present.
Live in the moment.
Pay attention to what’s around you and give it your all.
It doesn’t matter if it’s 3:02 or 5:25; your team needs you to focus on the task in front of you and be in the experience.
Surprisingly, by literally not giving the time of day, my dad gave his players, and me, so much more. Even if it took years for us to realize it.
4. Fishing is not simply an exercise in “feeding the fish.”
The baseball field is not the only place where the clock becomes irrelevant in my dad’s world. The same thing happens when it’s “fish o’clock.” Though the lesson here was intended for me, I also taught my dad a thing or two about fishing when I went along for the first time.
Being about 4 years old, I didn’t really understand the purpose of the activity, but we were on a boat and he had told me we were going out on the lake to feed the fish.
So there I was, all bundled up in my life jacket next to a bucket full of minnows, ready for this grand new adventure to meet the fish who were supposedly very hungry early in the morning. My dad was steering the boat with his back to me, turning around every couple minutes to talk to my mom, who was tasked with ensuring I stayed safely in the boat.
Unfortunately, no one thought to provide the same level of supervision for the bait.
As I was happily ushering minnows overboard by the handful, I was startled back to reality by the incredulous bellow of my dad’s voice over the boat motor:
“WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU DOING?!”
“I’m feeding the fish, Daddy. You said they were hungry!”
I can still hear the semi-amused “you got me” laugh that escaped him as he realized he did, in fact, tell me that my job for the day was to go out and feed the fish with him.
Needless to say, we didn’t catch many fish on that outing, but it’s still one of the best trips I can remember, even if I did learn the harsh truth about how we feed the fish in the lake with my tiny little bucket friends.
I still think my dad did most of the true learning that weekend, and I may have even gotten a new artificial lure for the next time. Minnows don’t grow on trees.
5. Kill them with kindness.
While I continue to fall back on many of the things I learned from my dad, if there’s one life lesson I will never forget, it’s to be kind.
Want to make a new friend? Be kind and helpful.
Trouble with mean kids at school? Don’t stoop to their level. Kill them with kindness instead.
Having problems at work? Be the bigger person and stay true to yourself. Honesty is the best policy.
No matter what obstacle I faced at whatever stage of life, my dad’s advice was always the same. And it always worked.
Kill them with kindness.
I may not be rich and famous or the most well-liked human on the planet, but I never sought any of those things anyway.
Above all, what I am is kind, and being a beacon of integrity and compassion is something I hope will make my dad proud.
So, welcome to Office Hours and Happy Father’s Day to those of you who celebrate. For those who struggle on this day due to grief, loss, estrangement, or other barriers, please feel free to borrow my dad and his wisdom for the day. We’re with you!