Over the last 8 months, I’ve really had to dig into myself and my childhood. By doing that, I’ve developed an appreciation for “How I work”—a lot of which was instilled in me watching my parents.
When we do the personal work on ourselves, it’s easy to fault our childhood environment, but as Mark Wolynn points out in his book It Didn’t Start With You, examining our parents’ childhood environment can reveal the larger patterns and cycles that have been passed down for generations. Once we realize how they grew up too, it becomes easier to understand — most often, they did the best they could.
It’s also easier to appreciate the great qualities that were instilled in you, too.
A little bit about them…
My Dad grew up in a very disciplined environment. His father escaped a Polish labor camp in his teens and fled to France. From there, he took a boat to the US during WWII. When he arrived, our last name was changed from Wishnevsky to Wish. His father later went on to serve in Vietnam as a Wild Weasel, a task force of planes whose mission was to seek and destroy enemy missile installations. To say the least, my grandfather, like so many other military veterans, paved the way for those who came after them to live out their truest purpose.
Growing up under those conditions didn’t afford my dad an upper-class lifestyle. It was one built on work ethic, high standards for excellence, with little room for emotional perseverance. My dad learned how to work his tail off and save every dollar he could to create a better life for himself. I constantly remember him telling me stories about how he was the kid in college whose fraternity brothers had everything, and he had to pay my own way. He said he wanted something different for his kids.
My mom also grew up in a military household. Her mom was a Navy wife, and damn, as a kid I never got away without making my twin bed in their Florida home. My grandfather was a former quarterback at the Naval Academy and also an incredible writer. I attribute him with giving me the gift of expression. For the fact-checkers out there, his name was Joe Tranchini.
My mom also grew up in a household that didn’t come from much financially but one that knew how to work hard, be resilient, take care of their belongings, and treat others with care and respect. She used these skills to become a state champion gymnast in high school and pursue it in college.
The 12 Work Lessons My Parents Passed Down To Me
What I am grateful for are my parents’ core values and what their childhoods taught them about showing up in their own life, in their own relationships, and within their own pride in their work.
Here are the 12 lessons they taught me:
- (Mom) Customer Care and Great Communication: In high school, my mom picked me up after school and took me to basketball training at the local gym. While I wasn’t the quickest athlete, I learned the art of the jumper. On the rides to training and back, I always overheard her talking to customers in the most professional way. Subconsciously, I was learning how to speak in a way to instill trust. She sometimes said to me, “How did I sound?” “Very professional,” I’d reply. “I’d work with you too.” Now I’m begging her to work for me as she ponders retirement.
- (Dad) Do The Job Right: My dad likes things done a certain way—the right way. He is a measure twice, cut once type of guy. It was demanding on me because he always did things in the tightest fashion. He grew up building houses with his dad, so perfection was instilled in him from an early age. Growing up, he passed that trait to me when we did things together— from installing lights to power washing his deck, and everything in between.
- (Mom) To-do lists and organization: In high school, whenever we finished dinner, we usually headed our respective ways—not to the family room to watch TV, but to our dungeons to work. For me, that was my room to do homework, and for my Mom that was to her office. I always remember walking in late at night and seeing my Mom’s to-do lists and all the things she’d crossed off over the course of her day. She never left a stone unturned, and her consistency was inspiring.
- (Dad) Starting over at 40: My dad restarted his career at 40 almost from scratch. After my parents’ divorce, he was offered an opportunity to build a mortgage company, which he took head-on with no guarantee of success. Watching his tireless work ethic the last 23 years has been nothing short of inspiring. He continues to pass down more lessons to me along the way. He taught me starting over was okay, and it was perhaps the reason I was able to switch paths so easily after working 4 years in the sports industry post-college.
- (Mom) Asking for Help and Value in Coaching: My mom always was seeking help from coaches and therapists to get better in her own work and life, using different people to navigate her path. For my mom, if there was a will, there was a way, and she was the queen at finding the right resources at the right time. Whenever I faced challenges growing up, I was never allowed to throw a pity party—instead, Mom asked how she could help, and then without me knowing what I needed, she showed up with the right resource to help me through. I’ve taken on the same mentality in my own life, never being scared to ask others for help, which requires acutely paying attention to what people are good at and knowing how to be helpful in return.
- (Dad) Relationships First: “I would be a lot further in my career if I networked,” my father told me when I was about to enter college. So I made it my mission to meet anyone and everyone. At my internships, I set up dozens of informational interviews, learned how to ask great questions, connect with others and learn, and develop insights. Building these relationships has exponentially ignited the business over the past 3 years. Simply, the platform has changed, but what has remained constant is the desire to constantly build new and meaningful relationships while maintaining old.
- (Mom) You’re Only as Good as Your Next At-Bat: While I do remember our parents being proud of me growing up, there was typically a constant push for more and better. Perhaps that was self-inflicted and self-determined, but I do remember hearing the constant message of never being satisfied with where you are because your last success doesn’t mean anything and you have to go get your next one. This instilled a level of determination and never an attitude of complacency.
- (Dad) Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard: My father never was the self-proclaimed smartest. He was never the best test taker, but he worked harder than the person next to him. Whether it was late weeknights until 10 or 11 PM or Saturday mornings at the office, no one was going to outwork him. While I didn’t realize this growing up, it has been a huge advantage for me too, because I’ve always had to outwork and outstrategize as we aim to disrupt the industries of publishing, thought leadership, and PR that we are in today.
- (Mom) You Miss 100% of the Shots You Don’t Take: After getting cut from the basketball team freshman year, my mom put the Wayne Gretzky quote in my room. I went on to become the only player on JV who wasn’t on the freshman team the year before. Now it’s a class on Masterclass if you’re interested yourself.
- (Dad) When You Know You Need to Hire, It’s Already Too Late: As hard-working and self-reliant as my father was, he always shared with me how he should have focused on hiring help faster and earlier. It didn’t mean much to me then, but now running my own business, I push for hiring faster with my business partner. We paid the price early for it as a team by not doing so, and learning how to bring on the right people at the right time is a key skillset that requires a proactive mentality so you don’t sink the ship. For the first time in the past 3 years, we’ve made 2 proactive hires that won’t start for months and couldn’t be more excited about building out our talent pool.
- (Mom) Thoughtful Gift Giving: If there is one thing I have loved doing for the people I care about in my life, it’s giving thoughtful and meaningful gifts, or sending an extra thank you note. The little things are the big things, and finding ways to connect to others to show you care about them is a really meaningful act. For instance, in our business, while this was more scalable, we bought cookies in bulk from a friend and sent them to clients and people who went out of their way in our lives and sent them personalized handwritten notes. I saw my mom do this constantly with customers—whether hosting lunches or sending care packages.
- (Mom and Dad) Stay Humble and Leave Your Ego at the Door: Both of my parents are extremely humble people. Strong-willed, confident, but humble most of all. Perhaps too humble. But it’s taught me to sniff out ego and not surround myself with it.
Bringing it Home
Everyone who comes into our lives teaches us. If we take the time to be intentional, introspective, self-aware, and learn how our families impacted us, there is a lot to be grateful for.
So perhaps go home (inside yourself), take stock of what went well and what you appreciate about the gifts you have today within yourself.