“No matter how far we come, our parents are always in us.” ― Brad Meltzer
This weekend, my mother celebrates her 60th birthday. In two months, my father will celebrate his 60th as well. Unfortunately, the miles separate us. And I regret not being able to be there to celebrate with them.
My mother and father have been wonderful parents to me. They have worked hard to provide a stable foundation for my life and future. They have taught me invaluable lessons about work, marriage, parenting, relationships, and life. And to celebrate their 60th birthday, I thought I would use this public forum to give them the praise they deserve.
60 Life Lessons I Learned from my Parents
• Admit mistakes. It would be foolish for me to claim my parents have been perfect. They aren’t. But when they make a mistake, they humbly admit it. And work to fix it.
• Appreciate teachers. My mom worked a number of jobs while I was growing up ― including being a teacher. From her, I learned to appreciate the time, energy, commitment, and care that teachers show every day.
• Assist your neighbor whenever possible. Everywhere I’ve lived, my parents knew our neighbors. More importantly, they recognized their needs and assisted when possible.
• Attend church. Worship has always been important to my family. Then and now.
• Be a good friend to find a good friend. Healthy friends cultivate healthy friendships. And my parents taught and modeled what it means to be a good friend to others.
• Be content with little. There were numerous times growing up when money was tight. Nevertheless, my parents were content in it.
• Be content with much. There were also times when the bank accounts were healthy. Even more impressive, my parents were content then as well.
• Be open to criticism. We never stop learning, growing, and changing. My mother and father were always open to being challenged in new ways.
• Be quick to help. If a need in the community was articulated, my parents were among the first to be there. They set a healthy example from the very beginning that life is not all about getting… it’s about giving.
• Care about the right things. Our lives and resources are finite. And you just can’t care about everything. Seek to care about the right things.
• Care for the fatherless. My parents provide, protect, and care for the orphan and the fatherless. And if there is a greater compliment to be given, I’m not sure what it is.
• Celebrate holidays with family. Even when we lived far away from extended family, I always remember making it home for the holidays as a kid. And as an adult, I still do.
• Choose the narrow path. Many will choose the broad, well-trodden path. My parents never did. Their values always dictated their decisions even when they were unpopular.
• Come home for lunch. I distinctly remember my dad coming home from work each day for lunch―usually for a hot dog on bread with chips. Let me repeat that, I always remember my dad coming home from work for lunch.
• Commit to your spouse. My parents have remained faithful to each other in every possible way for 40 years. I can’t thank them enough.
• Compete but remain fair. Competition runs deep in our family. But so does fairness. And I’d hate to have the first without the second.
• Concern your life with more than money. My mother and father always concerned themselves with greater pursuits than money.
• Disagree humbly. Nobody gets it right every time. I’m glad I learned from them the importance of being able to disagree with genuine humility… sometimes I wish I learned this even more.
• Discipline is a virtue. Self-discipline ought not be feared, but nurtured.
• Don’t fear change. My family moved a number of times while I was growing up (5-6 times before graduating high school). Through the experience and their example, my parents taught me never to fear it.
• Don’t look for wealth in money. True wealth is never measured on a bank statement. And they never evaluated theirs by the number of zeros printed on it.
• Eat cereal for dinner. Not sure why we had cereal every Sunday night for dinner… but surely, that’s where I learned it.
• Education is worth pursuing. My mom and dad had twin sons while still in college. They both graduated. Well done.
• Express gratitude. Gratitude is a discipline best experienced in both the good times and the bad. My parents displayed it regardless of external factors.
• Forgive quickly. Wrongs happen and mistakes are made. Sometimes, those decisions hurt. But not granting forgiveness only harms yourself.
• Get on the floor with your kids. My dad worked hard. But when he would come home, he would get on the floor and play with his kids. If I haven’t said it yet, “Thank you.”
• Have an opinion. You can always count on my mom to have an opinion. And thankfully so. She taught me the value of forming one.
• Invite others. My family always sought to include others into our plans and lives. From them, I’ve learned the value of this simple question, “Would you like to come with us?” Our world needs more people like that.
• Laugh often.
• And then laugh some more. Needless to say, I love the culture of joy my parents established in our home.
• Learn from others. My parents never considered themselves so above someone else that they couldn’t learn something new from them. And I’ve always appreciated that trait.
• Live in Aberdeen, SD. We moved a number of times growing up. But somehow, my parents always returned to Aberdeen, SD… and that’s where they continue to live today. Know that I look forward to visiting home again soon.
• Live within your income. My parents always made adjustments in their spending based on their income. They taught me the value of frugality when necessary. But more importantly, they taught me the joy of living within my means.
• Love conversation. Both my mom and dad excel in the gift of conversation. They use both their ears and their mouth during communication. And evenings spent in the living room talking about life pass too quickly.
• Love is best spoken and shown. Words are important. But so are actions. My parents express love using both.
• Love your work. Both my mom and my dad love their work. It’s no coincidence that I do too.
• Overcome difficulties. This world isn’t easy. And our lives are defined by how we respond in adversity. The greatest among us overcome trials and seek to learn from them.
• Pack an afternoon snack. My dad also taught me the value of a fun-size Snickers bar in the afternoon.
• Parenting matters. Stephanie Martson once said, “Everything our children hear, see, and feel is recorded onto a cassette. Guess who is the big star in their movie? You are.” The lives we live and the decisions we make absolutely matter in the worldview of our children.
• Play athletics. I learned to love sports from my dad.
• Play board games. But I learned to love board games from my mom.
• Practice generosity. Give your life and resources to others as much and as often as you can. They need your help. Your kids need the example. And you need the practice even more than them.
• Remain honest. It’s no great accomplishment to be honest when it is easy. But our true appreciation of honesty is displayed when it is difficult. And a truly honest man or woman is hard to find these days. I’m so glad to have two in my life.
• Respect character. Your character is of far more value than anything you can sell it for. Don’t trade it for something foolish like money, fame, power, sex, or the entire world.
• Rise early. I have vivid memories of playing basketball with my father at 6am before school would start. Great memories. But an even greater example.
• Schedule rest. As long as I can remember, my mother and father have taken naps on Sunday afternoons. They were probably just tired. But for me, it became a healthy model of appreciating both hard work and scheduled rest.
• Seek God. Some people choose to reject God. Others choose to ignore Him. My parents taught me to seek Him. And as the old saying goes, “If you seek, you will find.”
• Serve others. As I learned from them in both word and deed, life is bigger than yourself. And truest life, fulfillment, meaning, and joy is found in the service of others.
• Study words. My mother loves games that value words: Scrabble, Boggle, even Words with Friends. And even to this day, unless I cheat, I am unable to beat her.
• Take care of the elderly. The sunset is no less beautiful than the sunrise. I’m grateful for parents who see the beauty in young children, but I am also grateful for parents who have stood by those at the end of their life as well.
• Track spending. My dad is a banker with a mind for numbers. As a result, I can’t possibly remember the complicated system that he used to track our family’s budget… nobody else could either. But what I did learn is the importance of tracking dollars and developing budgets. And I’ll take that any day.
• Trust others. I learned optimism from my parents. They live their lives seeing the good in others and trusting them because of it. They taught me it is better to trust and get burnt once in awhile than to live your entire life suspicious of everyone around you.
• Use your talents. As I mentioned, my dad is a financial guy and my mom is a gifted teacher and trainer. Apart from their careers, they often use their talents in various community-based organizations to better the lives of others. They recognize their gifts and utilize them whenever possible.
• Vacations don’t have to be expensive. We went on summer vacations almost every summer growing up. And while a few of them required a significant financial investment, most of them didn’t. But we enjoyed all of them regardless of the destination (except for maybe the drive through the Colorado mountains without an air conditioner…).
• Value children. Both my mother and father love children and continue to invest their lives into kids. As a matter of act, even at age 60, you can still find my dad on the floor playing with his grand-kids.
• Value education. The ability to learn is a gift and a responsibility. My parents taught us early not to take it for granted.
• Value family. I’m so thankful to have grown up in a family that was filled with love, care, and joy. If you did not, seek to develop those attributes in your own life/family today. I can attest that your kids will forever thank you for it.
• Volunteer. Give freely to your community. Your gift is needed. And it makes the world a better place for everyone.
• Work hard. My parents have not wasted their lives. Their example has taught me the value of working hard and pursuing lasting significance over worldly success.
Mom and Dad, I can’t possibly express how thankful I am for each of you. Happy 60th birthday. Here’s to 60 more.
This is a guest post from J.D. Roth, who runs and writes for one of the biggest and best personal finance blogs on the net: Get Rich Slowly. Be sure to check out Get Rich Slowly for lots of solid advice on saving money and living a financially sound lifestyle.
Because I write a personal finance blog, I read a lot of books about money. I’ll be honest: they’re usually pretty boring. Sure, they can tell you how to invest in bonds or how to find the latest loophole in the tax code. But most of them lack a certain something: the human element.
Recently I’ve begun to read a different kind of money book in my spare time. I’ve discovered the joy of classic biographies and success manuals, especially those written by (or about) wealthy and/or thrifty men. When I read about Benjamin Franklin or Warren Buffett or J.C. Penney, I learn a lot — not just about money, but about how to be a better man.
Here are twelve of most important lessons that these books, written by and about great men of years gone by, have taught me:
“Anybody can be a halfway man, but the one who rises above this class is the one who keeps everlastingly pushing.” — J. Ogden Armour, Touchstones of Success (1920)
More than any other, one lesson stands out from the books I’ve read: Never give up. If you have a goal or a dream, pursue it. If there’s a cause that you truly believe in, then fight for it. That’s not to say that you should doggedly chase greed or gluttony, but that you should do your best to achieve those things that are important to you. Great men struggle through daunting obstacles to reach their destinations. In everything that you do, do your best. And remember: The road to wealth is paved with goals.
“‘Tis easier to suppress the first desire, than to satisfy all that follow it.” — Benjamin Franklin, The Way to Wealth (1758)
Benjamin Franklin famously attempted to codify his quest for self-control. As Brett wrote last year, Franklin committed himself to thirteen virtues, and he developed a system for tracking how disciplined he was in his daily pursuit of these ideals. There’s nothing wrong with an occasional indulgence. But when the indulgence becomes a habit — or worse, a vice — this can affect your life. Even destroy it. If you have habits that prevent you from fulfilling your potential, find a way to boost your self-control. (You might, for example, use Joe’s Goals to track your progress, much like Benjamin Franklin did.)
Do the Right Thing
“To be truly rich, regardless of his fortune or lack of it, a man must live by his own values. If those values are not personally meaningful, then no amount of money gained can hide the emptiness of life without them.” — John Paul Getty, How to Be Rich (1961)
Have a code of honor, and live by it. Your code of honor might come from your faith, or from your education, or from your family. Whatever the source, live by these values. Life is filled with temptations. The more you accomplish, the more people will tempt you with offers for quick gains or passing pleasures. Many men succumb to these, but those who do rarely achieve what they might have if they’d stuck to their principles. The books I’ve read are filled with stories of men who have resisted the urge to compromise, and who believe that this has been a key to their success. Don’t cheat. Be honest. Work hard. And embrace the golden rule.
Embrace The Golden Rule
“Good will is one of the few really important assets of life. A determined man can win almost anything that he goes after, but unless, in his getting, he gains good will he has not profited much.” — Henry Ford, My Life and Work (1922)
James Cash Penney — the man behind the J.C. Penney chain of department stores — believed that success could be measured by how a man treated others. In his book, Fifty Years with the Golden Rule, Penney describes his life-long adherence to this maxim: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Other great men believed the same. They believed that their fortunes came not from pursuing money itself, but by producing something of value to others. But this principle also holds true outside of business. In your dealings with your friends, your family, and with strangers, treat others as you would like to be treated. Doing so builds social capital, strengthening the fiber of the community.
Pay Yourself First
“Many a man is poor today, although he has worked like a slave, simply because he could not save.” — Orison Swett Marden, The Young Man Entering Business (1903)
Another common thread in most of these books — and in personal-finance classics like The Richest Man in Babylon — is the importance of saving. “Pay yourself first,” the old adage goes, and it’s great advice. If you will set aside ten or twenty per cent of all that you earn, your fortune will grow far beyond that of your peers. Some of this money should be invested in a manner that makes you comfortable. (You should learn about the concepts of asset allocation and diversification, if you haven’t already.) But some of your money should also be set aside in a high-interest savings account to act as an emergency fund. When you save — when you pay yourself first — you are using the strength of your youth to insure your uncertain tomorrow.
“Be assured that it gives much more pain to the mind to be in debt, than to do without any article whatever which we may seem to want.” — Thomas Jefferson, Letter to his daughter Martha (14 June 1787)
Debt is slavery. When you owe money to another man, you are obligated to work for his benefit, not yours. Many young men struggle with debt — I did so myself. But those who are not able to overcome their spending habits are likely to find themselves always poor. When you pay interest to someone else, you cannot earn interest for yourself. When you’re in debt, your options are limited. You cannot choose, for example, to take a month off to travel across the country with a friend. You cannot quit a job you hate. If you did, how would your bills get paid? To be sure, a certain amount of debt is useful in business, but make it a policy in your personal life to never borrow for something that will decrease in value. (And if you’re already behind, make it a priority to get out of debt as soon as possible.)
“The foundation of success in life is good health: that is the substratum of fortune; it is the basis of happiness. A person cannot accumulate a fortune very well when he is sick.” — P.T. Barnum, The Art of Money Getting (1880)
Your health is your greatest asset. If you lack health, you cannot work, and cannot produce an income. Health allows you to engage in productive activities, at work and at play. It allows you to enjoy the company of your friends and family. And it allows you to live with vigor. Guard your health. Do not neglect your body. Eat well. Exercise regularly. If you drink or smoke, do so in moderation. You will not live forever, but with some care and foresight, you may get a little closer!
Do Not Covet
“By wishing to be what he calls ‘up-to-date’ as his friends or boon companions, many a young man mortgages his future.” — Orison Swett Marden, The Young Man Entering Business (1903)
It never pays to compare yourself to others. For one, you can find yourself longing to own the same things they do. Your best friend buys a new Ford Mustang, and suddenly you want one too. The guys from work go out for drinks on Friday evening, but you’re broke — the temptation to join in, to have what others have, can be unbearable. Focus only on yourself and how the things you own and do relate to your goals. Don’t be jealous of others. (This is one message in the famous essay, “Acres of Diamonds”: Instead of looking elsewhere for wealth, look at your own life.)
“This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of wealth…To set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or arrogance.”