Lessons Learned Working for My Dad

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Today’s my Dad’s birthday.

He always says, “Don’t get me a gift. Just write me a homemade card.” Well, this isn’t quite a card, but a blog still counts, right?

Anyway, here goes…

I’m the girl that works for her dad.

It all started freshman year of college when I shattered my flip phone. Unemployed and 18 years old, I had no money to pay for my dream replacement, the iPhone 4 (aka the beginning of my apple love affair). So I made a deal with my Dad: he’d pay for my phone but I had to come work for him so that I could eventually repay him.

Seemed fair enough.

I started working for him the next week – about 8 hours per week at minimum wage. I had no car, so my Dad would swing around campus and pick me up from the UB dorms after he’d taken his lunch break swimming at the pool on campus. Then he’d drive me back to my dorm at close of business.

It was a good arrangement, but after 9 months I quit for a restaurant gig; it turned out serving was a bit more lucrative than my minimum wage job working for Dad.

That experience was only a taste of what was to come. I returned to work for my Dad just before graduating college and, when one thing led to another, I found myself on a full time schedule.

For anyone who’s ever worked for family (not just with family, because that merits its own blog), there’s certainly a lot to be gained and even more to be learned. Here are just a few lessons I picked up along the way.

1. It can be lonely on top

​Whether you're the boss like my dad, in a managerial position like I was for a while, or you're just the boss' child, it can be lonely on top.  Your team won't necessarily "like" you 100% of the time.  While I do believe that the team has always liked my Dad, it's never been his goal to be their "friend", only to maintain their respect.

2. Work is a lifestyle, not just 9-5

My Dad is an entrepreneur. Running a successful business doesn’t just happen during the hours of 9am – 5pm. While, as a daughter, I would often feel frustrated when my dad spent loads of time staring at his computer screen, as an employee, I've learned to appreciate his work ethic. My Dad started his career as a department store employee, and so, with that in mind, it’s amazing to see where his work ethic has taken him. He doesn’t just stare at his email for the sake of responding to emails. He’s actively working on making his dream a reality. That’s pretty cool to watch.

3. Don't wait for perfection

I’ve written about this before. Something imperfect today is better than perfect tomorrow. Better to do your best now, rather than letting precious time drift away while you try to reach some unattainable level of perfection.

4. Make mistakes and own them

I was never a perfect employee. There are plenty of times I’ve dropped the ball and watched it shatter. The important thing is to own it, and to figure out what went wrong so it doesn’t happen again. Fail fast, he says. It’s the foundation for most things – software development, application development… personal development. Fail fast, try again, and repeat. He’s right.

5. Everyone does everything

The first thing my Dad usually says when a new employee starts is that there's no such things as stepping on toes at the office. If you see something that needs to get done, do it. Never say "but that's not my job". No one is above anything or any task.  

6. If you don’t know something, that's fine, but go read about it

My Dad is always reading. He’ll boast that he’s always in between two books (one fiction and one non-fiction) but that’s not entirely true. Beyond just the books, he’ll spend his time perusing news sources online, and reading up on the latest technology articles and blogs. He’s constantly immersing himself in relevant literature to stay current and in the know. It’s impossible to know everything, but he certainly tries.

Self-education is the unspoken bullet on everyone’s job description when working for my Dad. And even though he’s the boss-man, he always leads by example.

7. Be healthy in every area of your life

Business is business, but personal life is important, too. That’s why my Dad always makes an effort to encourage his employees to lead healthy lives. He subsidizes the entire cost for race fees (marathons, half marathons, 5k races, triathlons, you name it) and he covers a portion of every employee’s monthly gym fees. Growing up, I used to resent my Dad for dragging me out of the house just after 6am to run a few miles, leaving just enough time to shower and shovel in some breakfast before the bus came around. Admittedly, I’d mutter some choice words at him under my breath. I didn’t appreciate his “thoughtfulness” then – I’m not sure any kid would – but as an adult, having a boss/dad who’s a positive role model for healthy living is incredible.

While I still do work with my Dad a few hours per week, it's only part time.  It's unlikely that I'll ever work for him again in a full time capacity.  So I wanted to take the opportunity to express how incredibly grateful I am for the experience. 

The truth is, I know far too many people my age who have lost their fathers (and mothers). While working for my Dad hasn’t always been easy – we have argued on occasion – I would be remiss if I didn’t emphasize how fortunate and blessed I am to have not only worked for him but also with him. 

So, Dad, in honor of your birthday, I want to say thank you for the opportunity, the education, the guidance, the feedback, and, most importantly, for giving me the courage to start making my own dreams a reality. Though - all that said - "thank you" will never seem like enough. I love you and happy birthday!

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