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The Simple Piece of Advice My Dad Shared With Me

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book Road trip with Dad.

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I worry like everyone else. I often think about money, my future, and being in love. I think about what would happen if the proverbial rug was pulled out from underneath, me having to start over in life. At times, my mind will race to the end of my life, wondering whether—at the end of my days—I did enough to live a life well-lived. Did I love and learn what I could? Did I help people? Did I live without regrets?

I cannot help but lose myself at times in thinking about these things. Most of the time, it pays off thinking like this being a writer. At times, it further complicates being present as I often think about the future and the uncertainties that lie within it. I sit with my Dad on another stretch of the road wondering what life will be like when he is no longer here. At this stage of our lives, we’re finally getting somewhere. We’ve gone through some of the most complicated and biggest disagreements only to find that we misunderstood each other at the time. We are only finding out about each other as men on this road trip. All that time I spent trying to be right in our arguments, in our disagreements in the past, feels like a waste. I cannot beat myself up over it, but I do at this moment. My dad is staring out the windshield, his eyes piercing the windshield covered in dirt, bugs, and dried-out raindrops. There are clouds in the distance, a Louisiana storm approaching us. Dad admires nature. He is also fearful of it. Whenever he gets to see something of beauty nature provides, there is a certain look he gets. It is one of curiosity; his eyes become wide, staring at the depth of the dark clouds. There are hints of gray, subtle accents that make him say, “That looks like it going to be a big storm.”

Storms are his favorite. As a kid, my dad would peer out the back window at our house in Sonoma County and place his finger on the glass, staring upwards at the sky from underneath the edge of the roof. Rain would start to pour. A lightning bolt shot down in the distance. Like clockwork, he would mutter, “holy shit.” I was not a fan of thunder and lighting. It used to scare the shit out of me as a kid. Anytime a storm would start, I’d run into my room. My dad would knock and tell me to come to look with him. I wouldn’t come when he asked the first time. But he would ask me again. I started to move out from underneath the covers, and when he called me again to come to join him, I shifted my feet to the ground and walked to the back of the house, where he was.

“Michael, come look at this,” he’d say again. I moved closer to him, right next to him. The glass was the only thing separating us and the storm.

“Man, how powerful, right?” I’d nod slowly and tell him yes. We’d sit in the [special] silence of the pounding rain and rumbling thunder. As much as I was still afraid, I felt a sense of comfort. Dad was in awe yet unafraid. I wanted to feel the same way.

As we approach the Louisiana thunderstorm, I watch the wipers go back and forth, brushing the drops off the windshield. It reminds me of all the storms that came and went when I was a child. As the storm ahead rages on, I tell him that I am afraid I am not cut out for entrepreneurship. I tell him that my life thus far has been a series of winding turns and roads, less conventional than I’d imagined and it’s made me feel that I am behind the eight ball in many ways. I tell him that I am 37, never been married and have no children, that it feels the older I get, the more I feel that marriage and family are not in the cards for me. I feel a sense of anxiety bubbling within me, a huge pause creating a communication gap. I start to think more about things not working out for me. I think about being a failure rather than a success. I think about how I am perceived and wish I hadn’t taken five years to finish college. I think about the choices I made in relationships and friendships I left behind.

“You know, Michael, I went through the same shit you did.” He breaks the silence with an unwrapping of a pack of Ricola cough drops. He has a calmness to him as I vented, like a baseball manager staring out onto the diamond. He offers me a cough drop, and I take it from him.

“I’ve always told you that you would be a great entrepreneur. You have already learned the most valuable lesson of entrepreneurship: you will get knocked on your ass. You will feel like you failed every single day. And you will get up. You will clean yourself off. And you get back at it.”

The cough drops have this weird taste to them, a mix of echinacea and a mint honey combination that to this day, I am still on the fence about.

“Everyone goes through the failure part of entrepreneurship. The setbacks, the clients being on your ass 24/7. The days where you hope you can make payroll. There were nights I stayed awake, too, like you did. I worried about how we were going to get out of debt, make more money. Recessions. Presidents. You name it. Clients being a pain in the ass. I have seen it all.”

The rain hits harder. Small waves of water stream behind the cars in front of us on the freeway. We’re approaching the beginning of the storm. The thunder is faint, but the rain is getting louder.

“What did you do? I feel like I'm grasping at straws.”

“You got to stop worrying. That’s the problem. You’re thinking too much about what has happened and what may happen. You’re not thinking about now. Now is the time for you to do something. Get on the bus Michael. Just do it. Don’t overthink it. You’ll adjust to whatever happens. The worst thing you can do is sit still. The pieces will come together. Everything will work out. You just have to do it. If you want to be successful and this is what you want—to have money, freedom, all that shit—then get on the bus. If it’s working, you’ll adjust. If it’s not working, you’ll adjust. You’re a smart kid, Michael. You always have been. You just gotta do it. Be like Nike. Just do it.”

It was as though I had been given a sermon that rocked me to my core, or a particular and personal TED talk that changed everything. It was as if the words on the page of a good book hit me upside the head. Like most of us, I have been searching for an answer. Something that would put my mind at ease. And there it was.

The clouds paled into a light gray. The rain softened into a mist. The traffic started to clear. I thanked my dad for something so simple.

“Don’t mention it. Just do it, son. I know you can.”

There was a small silence in between us. I had been waiting for him to tell me I could do it. Didn’t matter what it was; all he needed to tell me was that I could, that he believed in me. That made the storm worth the drive.

We sat quietly. Our exit 20 miles ahead.