“There is no secret to success”
announced my most important mentor many years ago. “It’s all about hard work and being responsible!”
That mentor was Earl, my father, and I didn’t want to believe him. I kept checking out books on”how to get rich” and felt his ways were old fashioned and too slow. He was, after all, only a middle class ex-navy man and architect whose life I knew so little about. So as a kid I never thought to ask him about success. I didn’t want to be like him, really, because he was usually so strict and serious.
I usually tried to avoid my father. He was the one who spanked me and my sister (usually me) when he came home from work after we’d been up to our usual hijinks. But, despite all his meanness, he had a soft spot in his heart where he held onto important messages on how I could live a life of no regrets . . . and dealt them out to me whenever the opportunity arose.
Earl passed away in 1990, but his influence on me has only grown stronger since that time. The real secrets he shared were embedded in his life . . . the things he stood for the most: honesty, integrity and self-responsibility.
“Say what you mean… and mean what you say” are words I continue to live by . . . and it has paid off. People trust me because they know that if I make a commitment, I keep it. This attitude has also helped my wife and I pay off all our debts, build a successful marriage and business, and accomplish personal goals that we could only dream of before . . . thanks to my mean ol’ Dad’s influence.
Earl Weatherly was a member of the WWII generation. He grew up in the south during the depression, lost his father when he was ten, and enlisted in the Navy, perched to invade Japan until Harry Truman dropped the A-bombs and ended the war. When he came home, Earl met my mother, married, drank martinis, smoked a lot, had two kids and bought a house in the suburbs. My early life could have been a scene straight out of Mad Men.
Responsibility: A Double-Edged Sword
The one thing his generation had, however, that is quickly slipping away from American life is responsibility: the quality of taking credit or blame for your own thoughts or actions, right or wrong.
I learned early on to take responsibility for my actions, or risked “getting the belt.” I remember when I first started driving and accidentally ran over a neighbor’s mailbox. I stopped and put it back upright, and proudly told my father I fixed it. Instead of patting me on the back, however, he scolded me for “not completing the job.” He made me buy the neighbor another mailbox and new post, erect the post and mailbox, add concrete to the post hole to make sure it would last forever, then apologize for my thoughtlessness in not fixing it immediately!
At the time I thought he was being grossly unfair. On looking back, however, I know he did it that way to set a firm example . . . and how this contribution to my REAL success in life keeps feeding me and others! Because of his lessons, I can admit when I’m wrong, correct it, and sleep at night. I also keep my word, and avoid those who don’t. Consequently, my life is filled with honest, successful people, and all the rewards that come from associating with them.
How many parents would do that today? If any, they are a dying breed. Consequently, most kids are not learning the open secret to success . . . they are growing up in such a morally ambiguous climate that their lives will be filled with blame, negativity, and fear. Both the kids and their parents have few examples to follow of those who take real responsibility, since those who strive to set these examples are attacked for being “unfair,” racist or sexist.
Responsibility to most people is a four letter word, or one best delegated to the history books. So many parents today are quick to blame teachers and school coaches for the failures of their “little darlings.” Ads run constantly blaming doctors, drug companies, and politicians for everything that ails us . . . and the sheer volume of attorneys providing a feeding frenzy for anyone feeling sad, insulted, or downtrodden in any way has stretched beyond all common sense.
My dad made mistakes; lots of them. But he never backed down from taking responsibility for his own actions . . . or their consequences. He had other qualities that I admired, that I’m just now starting to appreciate, so let me attempt to “translate” for a younger generation the real secrets of success, and why they are (still) so important.
Lessons Learned from Dad
- Take Responsibility. This may not be what lawyers advise their clients on TV, but then again, they are not concerned with their clients’ inner success or soul, are they? If you do something, don’t be afraid to say you did it, even if it was a mistake. If so, admit the mistake, learn from it and move on.
- Stop the Blame Game. This is the other side of taking responsibility. I saw my Dad often become disappointed because some business partner, client, or drinking buddy screwed him over and caused him to lose money or opportunity. But I never saw him dwell on it. “It does no good to blame others, sue them, or remain bitter about things that are over and done with,” he said when I asked. Later in my life I began to understand why he saw it this way, and actually followed suit. When someone stole from me, cheated me, or harmed me in some way, I may have been mad at the moment, but chalked it up as my mistake for not seeing it coming, commit to avoid these cheaters in the future, and then forget about the whole thing. Yes, I made a habit of cultivating a short memory! Bitterness and resentment only fester and negatively affect organs like your heart, liver and gall bladder. “Success is the best revenge!” See life this way and all other problems will seem small.
- Keep Your Word. Early in my life, my Dad promised me something and forgot to deliver. But these memories are rare. Most of the time he spoke the truth, even when it pained him to do so. I was disappointed, but not nearly so much as I would have been had he led me on. This was not unusual in America in the 1950’s. There was a time in American history when a man’s word was his bond, and deals were made on a handshake. No more. We’ve become so “lawyered up” and politically correct we no longer appreciate the fact that you and everyone else is still mainly judged by what you do . . . not what your say you’re going to do. In business, as in life, if you “say what you mean and mean what you say,” you will be considered so unusual, you will automatically rise to the top of your field! Don’t believe me? Try it for a month and see what happens!
- Stay Strong. This was one of Dad’s hardest lessons to learn. Quite often in my life, I’ve wanted to whine and run to the comfort of those who I thought could take away my pain. Each time I did this, however, left me feeling a bit more like a weakling or a coward. One thing I noticed about my Dad is that, while he would occasionally yell or complain, he never whined or ran to others to fix his problems. I used to think this attitude shut him down emotionally and led to a drinking problem. And maybe it did. But I also learned that sometimes strength in leadership means you simply take in on the chin and stay quiet. His insistence that “actions speak louder than words” taught me to act in ways that indicate genuine responsibility.
As a parent or a coach, you affect the lives of others in ways you can’t imagine. Are you a living example of those traits you really want to pass on? If not, perhaps a bit more self-reflection would help. It did with me, and has left me with a growing appreciation for that “mean old guy” I called Daddy.
Has this “open secret to success” article been helpful? Let me know what you think.