I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve gotten to where I am in my career. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a ton I still want to do and a long way I still have to go. But I’m lucky to be where I am right now – and it’s made me reflect more on how I got here.
My family is a huge reason. The older I get the more grateful I am for the lessons, values and perspectives I learned from my family. (I also become more cringingly aware of how much of a pain in the ass I was to deal with.)
Looking back, I never understood the life lessons they were sneakily instilling in me. Like Mr. Miyagi making Daniel wash cars to unconsciously teach him how to block kicks, I never understood the point of the mundane tasks my parents forced upon me.
Until years and years later, when in the pivotal moments of my career, the lessons those tasks instilled in me became my guidance.
I just wanted to share three particular lessons my family taught me. Three lessons that have become part of my core, and a huge reason I am where I am.
My Dad – Mowing the Damn Lawn
I hated mowing the lawn. Not just some casual hatred, no, I deeply and passionately hated mowing that damn lawn. But my dad always made me do it. Begrudgingly I’d pull out the mower, fight to get it started and when I finally got it to spark to a sputtered life – I’d race the mower as quickly as I could across the lawn. Cut corners, missed patches of overgrow grass, uneven lines…it was typically a mess. Nevertheless I’d store the mower back in the garage and declare, “I’m done.”
“Hold on,” my dad would say. “Let me check the lawn.”
A few moments he’d come back, “go mow the lawn again Sean. You rushed it and it’s a mess.”
I would throw excuses, throw protests and even get into the “logic” of why does it even matter what our neighbors think about how our yard looks. None of it worked, I couldn’t do anything else on that Saturday until I mowed the lawn the right way. Eventually I stopped rushing when I mowed the lawn, and just did it right the first time.
Which is what my dad was teaching me: it’s quicker to do it right the first time, then to have to do it again.
But the older I get the more I recognize the deeper meaning in his lesson: no matter what you do, take pride in your work. Regardless of how important, or how seemingly unimportant, what you do is – how you do it is a reflection on you.
Exciting work is easy to get excited about – the ideating, strategizing, building of new things. But it’s when I’m bored, stuck doing the necessary mundane tasks, looking for corners to cut…that’s when I remember all those Saturdays spent mowing the lawn. If I’m going to do something, no matter how big or small, take pride in it. Because it’s a reflection of who I am.
My Little Brother – How To Win Championships
There’s a myriad of traits in my brother that I’m both proud and envious of. His dedicated work ethic is one of them. He has a staying power I’ve rarely seen in another – once he sets a goal, he’ll unflinchingly stick to it for years until he reaches it. I’m a little more flighty (the doctors say ADHD – but I digress), and I’ve always been amazed at this trait in my brother. His work ethic is second to none.
Which is why my brother made the varsity lacrosse team as a freshman. It was my senior year, the year our team won the county championship. My brother didn’t just make the varsity team, he’d see lots of field time that year. I still remember his first time on the field, playing defensive middie, under the lights on Severna Park’s front field. I’m in cage calling out ball position and telling him to push his guy to the alley. Instead, my brother gets his ankles broken and his guy darts by ripping an open point blank shot at me. I stopped the shot, and bailed out my little brother, and I’ve never let him live it down since.
But while my college lacrosse career fizzled out unremarkably, my brother went on to win two National Championships at one of the most storied programs in lacrosse history, and was named All American his senior year. I had the privilege of sitting in M&T Bank Stadium, eyes filled with tears of pride, as I watched my little brother play for his second national championship. It will always be one of the highlights of my life.
Years later, as I watched my brother apply that same work ethic to his career, always reading, studying and getting better at his job after work. We were talking about it one night, and he recalled what his college coach used to tell the team after practice (and I paraphrase):
“Guys, practice is over. You can go to the cafeteria, get some dinner and go back to your dorms and relax the rest of the night if you want. But right now, somewhere else in the country, someone you’re going to be playing against in the upcoming weeks is putting in extra reps after the end of their practice. It’s up to you.”
I’ve thought about that every day since. It serves as a constant reminder to me that there’s no better way to improve yourself than putting in extra time and work.
My Mom – Where to Find The Answer to “Why?”
I was the most annoying kid ever. No, seriously. My mom probably deserves some award for simply putting up with me. I never shut up, and I never stopped asking “why?”
Why are stop signs red? Why do you drive on the right side of the road? Why do bees sting? Why can’t I see the moon during the day? Why don’t dogs live as long as humans? Why, why, why…. It never ended.
If I was my mom, I would have invested in a really good set of noise-cancelling headphones. But she didn’t. She also didn’t give me the answers. She did something better. She talked me through my questions with challenging questions of her own. She brought me to libraries, she took me to bookstores. When my fifth grade teacher recommended I look into programming classes at the local community college, my mom enrolled me and took me every weekend. When my high school guidance counselor suggested I take lower level classes, where I could “easily” get A’s for my transcript, my mom refused.
My mom instilled in me an excitement for learning, and taught my curiosity how to fearlessly challenge. But the most valuable lesson my mom taught me was how to find the answers to my questions myself. I would never be where I am today if I’d spent my life sitting around, waiting for someone to tell me “why.”
Years later, one of the first teams I managed gave me a huge sign that said “Google It” for Christmas. It was a reference to the first thing I’d ask them whenever they came into my office with a question, “Have you googled it yet?”
It’s easier to just give the answers. But that’s all it is: easier.
Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man how to fish and he eats the rest of his life.