16 precious lessons I’ve learned from my dad

A quick post about the favourite bits of advice I’ve received from my dad over the years.

This year I told myself that I would only try to post articles or posts here that can stand the test of time. I am writing this on my dad’s 60th birthday and can’t think of anyone else’s advice that can stand the test of time. Over the last week or so, I made a small list of some of the most precious lessons my brother and I have learned from him. I am certain that several role models or mentors of yours would have shared similar lessons with you. I’m sure there are a couple of weird and unconventional bits in here though. He is, after all, my father.

Always keep your loved ones posted

Even before all of us started using cellphones, I remember my dad calling up home to inform mom that he’s reached his office safely. Even if he was travelling, there was always a “check in” a few times a day. It is a habit that has rubbed off on my brother and me as well. Making sure that your inner circle is posted is a healthy practise that saves time and keeps everyone stress-free most of the time.

Sleep is not a waste of time

I often hear anecdotes about parents (especially fathers) being strict about their kids waking up early or chiding them for taking naps. My dad is a huge fan of sleep and its ability to help one recover and maybe even reboot one’s mood. We’ve always been encouraged to sleep more. In fact, we’ve been chided for not sleeping enough and have been asked to go back to sleep if possible.

Never utter a lie

Obvious advice, right? The way my dad convinced us about this when we were kids was pretty amazing though. He didn’t try to lecture us about the ethics or morality behind honesty. He just told us that life is simpler if you just tell the truth all the time. You don’t have to worry about keeping track of lies. Just stick to what’s true and you’ll be fine.

Think about the fly and not just your beer

This is a story about empathy. There was a mug of beer and there was a fly. If one is to think of one’s beer and get irked, one must also remember that it a matter of life and death for the fly that risks getting swatted. Always try to look at things from others’ perspective.

When you’re going through hell, keep going

When you’re going through a bad phase, the worst thing you can do is tire yourself. Fighting time will tire you out. Instead, develop a stoic attitude and believe that everything happens for the best. The bad times will pass and the good times will come. (That sounded like an Ad for Kingfisher. I didn’t intend it to.)

Learn to appreciate an art, play a sport, and indulge in a hobby

Taking a break is important and making sure the breaks you take help you grow is even more important. Music, art, theatre, dance, or some similar pursuit can double up as a hobby and a way to take a break. We were always discouraged from being “bored” and I think’s done us a world of good. My dad’s latest hobby happens to be ‘gardening’ by the way.

Simplify your task list and learn to prioritise

It’s very easy to be or seem overwhelmed. Learning to trim down our to-do lists is a lesson that has saved us from many an anxiety attack. Every time dad spots us with a stressed out look he makes it a point to ask us to think about the things on our list that we have under our control and the things we don’t.

If you’re undergoing mental or emotional stress, concentrate on physical comfort or luxury

This one’s related. Every time I’ve tried to experiment with a new fad or diet that promises to take me closer to my ideal body fat percentage, I’m reminded of this rule. Your body cannot take two types of stress. If things are going well mentally and emotionally, you can afford to starve your body physically. If not, try not to break it by putting it under every kind of stress voluntarily.

Help without any strings attached

One of my favourite fundas that I learnt from my dad is that we live in a pay-it-forward world and not a pay-it-back world. I may help you today and may never need your help in the future. However, the karma points accrued from that experience will stay with me. It’s a lovely approach to giving and I’m glad we learnt it during our formative years. I also wrote a guide on how to ask for help.

Say “No” more often than you say “Yes”

The only way to make sure that your time and advice can be put to their full potential is by saying “No” a lot. I’ve seen several close friends lose sleep and even ruin their lives just because they never learnt to say “no” without feeling guilt. It’s a skill that helps me lead and follow with ease.

Find your most productive hours and work during that time (But make up for sleep later)

Going back to sleep, I remember a lot of my friends being asked to go to bed by 10 PM or 11 PM or some such deadline. We didn’t have that because as a night owl himself, dad understood that some people are just more productive when the rest of the locality is asleep. So he encouraged us to find those hours. Of course, the caveat was that we found ways to make up for lost sleep.

Don’t underestimate the power of faith, philosophy, or spirituality

This advice has helped me experiment with Hindusism, meditation, stoicism, and several other philosophies and forms of spirituality. Our usual vacation format of ‘temples in the morning and beach/hills after sunset’ has helped too. In case you haven’t noticed the company I co-founded and run.

Anybody can digest success, learn to deal with failure

While we have always been encourage to celebrate the small wins, we’ve constantly been reminded that life is like a Sine wave and the learning happens in the troughs. Learning to deal with failure is a skill that can literally keep people alive and it’s a topic that more families ought to be talking about at the dining table.

Always be generous with your praises and do so in public if possible

I’ve always assumed that showering people with praises is something that came to me naturally. Only recently did a conversation between my parents reveal that I was probably emulating what my dad did. Praises cost nothing and are invaluable. Be more generous. Give someone the ego massage that they may need.

Do not let any substance or activity control you. Reserve that privilege for loved ones.

This is huge one. So many of my peers are addicted to multiple things. Substances, activities, the wrong people…just following this one piece of advice has helped me find my path back even when I’ve been tempted to go astray. You can even read about how I got rid of my social media addiction.

Laugh at yourselves and make others laugh too

This is what keeps us sane. Life is hard as it is. Don’t make it harder by being a serious and frustrated person all the time. Learn to laugh and keep the people around you smiling — that’s how you give yourself permission to be happy.

I hope this had a few take-aways or reiterations that you needed to read.

Oh, and happy birthday, Appa.

P.S: I send out a weekly email with my own favourite bits of advice, stories, and reading reccomendations. Interested? Sign up here.