Lessons from My Dad

Tangential Tuesdays #81

Since it was fathers day over the weekend, I thought it would be fun to try to distill a few of the many things I’ve learned (or in some cases…. still trying to learn) over the years from my dad.

I have to admit…it was a lot harder than I expected. As a kid, I was so unaware, so focused on other things that I think many of the lessons I took from my parents are so deeply ingrained in me I forget they are there.

But I think this is also one of the most beautiful parts of parenting. Kids don’t listen to what you say… they only follow what you do. And you can’t fake action.

^ throwback to my favorite family vacation of all time. planned by my lovely mother (sorry mom, saving the lessons from you for another post!)

Exercise daily

For as long as I can remember, I’ve viewed my dad as an athlete. He runs and swims consistently and has for pretty much his entire life. That wore off on me over a long enough time.

Of course, I’d be lying if it didn’t also cause a bit of friction at times 😂. I watched my dad run a ~5:10 mile trial in his 50’s…. which turns out to be about as fast as my fastest mile EVER. My dad was dropping 18 minute 5ks while I was in high school… my fastest 5k is 20:20.

But since accepting that my dad would sometimes beat me at sports despite being almost 40 years older than me, it’s only been a positive.

The idea that exercise is an essential part of a good life is something I learned from my dad. And with enough consistency maybe one day I’ll actually run a sub-20 minute 5k.

Competition is fun

It’s not uncommon for my dad to sign up for a road race with the intention that he is “not going to race it”. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen or heard of this actually happening.

The truth is my dad loves competition. I remember watching my dad race growing up and being terrified. I wasn’t used to seeing adults push themselves close to their physical limits!

I remember entering into the pinewood derby with my boy scout troop and getting absolutely destroyed the 1st year. But the next year…. my dad and I read everything we could: we polished the axels, we added copper BBs so we could get as close to the weight limit as possible. And although we didn’t win, we did a heck of a lot better than the year before.

Despite the fierce competitive drive that my father showed me, I’ve never once seen him get angry about a competition not going his way. That’s certainly more than I can say.

Process > Outcome

This one is strongly in the “still learning” category for me.

My dad has a Ph.D. in Physics. So it is probably not surprising that my sister and I would go to him for help on our math/physics homework throughout our pre-college years.

The one part that I remember him being absolutely relentless on was “Showing your work”. Getting the answer and having some understanding of how you got there was enough for my sister and I - but it was not enough for our dad.

Our work had to be crystal clear, neat, and following a consistent process. Getting the right answer was an afterthought. A side effect of following the right process.

I remember this being so contentious throughout middle school that we would make bargains with my dad about being able to ask him questions without him being allowed to see (and often) criticize our work.

Years later, this is something I still struggle with, but absolutely see the value from. Set up the right processes for engineering, problem-solving, and your life, and good things will happen.

Anyone can get the answer right once, but if you want to be consistently great you have to follow a consistent process.

^ A classic selfie taken by my father on my first trip to the bay area / Yosemite.

Why Figma Wins + The Most Famous Loop make a really good reading pair for this week. The most famous loop ties together thermodynamics and business strategy. If you are anything like me I think you will really love it.

there are a couple important ideas expressed here. First, it acknowledges that there are two ways you can get work out of a loop. The first is to spend potential energy, no surprise. But the second is to let disorder increase. Not forever; ideally only in the controlled circumstance of your imaginary heat engine. You can get a lot of work done if you freely let disorder run its course. You will have to pay it back later, but it will work.

The second insight in here is that if you allow the ebb and flow of disorder, your loop can pass between high and low potential energy states a lot more efficiently.

My Update

- Taylor