Speaker, Author, Consultant, Fraud Examiner

Last Tuesday, May 22nd, my dad would have been 106. The date had become a reflection on my dad’s perseverance through a difficult life. From watching how my dad, and my granddad before him, chose to live life to their lives to the fullest and take every opportunity presented to them, I learned the basis from which I make my own decisions. In the wake of my dad’s birthday anniversary, I have been pondering on the words of wisdom I have gained from Dad and the life lessons I have learned along the way.

1. There will always be options. Look for open doors that lead to improved well-being. Find a silver lining or the humor in all things stressful. 

When September 11th happened, I had been in business for myself just shy of 3 years. In the months that followed the twin towers falling, American business was at a stalemate. The stock market was in ruins, and people moved around like zombies, only going through the motions of the day.

I remember the day the stock market crashed. I stood in my parent’s living room, tears streaming down my face and panic gripping my chest as I told my dad I was witnessing the end of my business. At this point, I was continually reinvesting to build my business; so with no liquid assets, I was left with no money to pay the bills. Always the pragmatist, my dad calmly responded, “Honey, I have lived long enough to know that when the door closes, another one will open.”

“But Dad,” I interjected.

“And if a door does not open,” he laughed as he continued, “there are always the windows.”

He believed in what I was doing and, as a daddy’s girl, never wanted to see me hurt. His best medicine was always laughter. In thinking back to that conversation, he was right; life is a series of open doors. My dad came from humble beginnings, and yet, he chose to see the positives.

2. A financial situation can always be worse. Work hard and keep working: it will pay off.

My dad grew up poor and picking cotton from the time that he could stand. His dad was an itinerant farmer, which is a fancy word for working on other people’s land as needed for low wages. Granddaddy bought land around town when he could, but then the Great Depression hit, and he lost it all. Dad’s mom sold cosmetics farm to farm but died from the flu when my dad was just 12 years old. With the exception of a few aunts that lived in town, Dad and Granddad were mainly on their own.

With all the hardships of his past, I never heard Dad complain about growing up poor; then again he might not have known the difference. Radio was the primary form of communication in his youth. Otherwise, some magazines displayed glamorous photos, but I’m not sure how many of those he actually saw during those years. The lack of national and international media meant fewer opportunities to compare and contrast his life to others. That is the debilitating dilemma of our society’s fascination with social media today.

Dad’s academic career consisted of one college semester. That was before the Great Depression hit, and he dropped out to get a job. He talked about quite a few career changes during those years. Amongst them was washing dishes at Red Bryan’s BBQ in Dallas and selling tires farm to farm with Firestone, doing whatever he needed to do to earn a living.

3. No one single job prepares you for another, but instead, it is the series of tasks and the culmination of experiences. There is something to be learned from every client, every deadline, and every speaking engagement.

Dad’s life took another turn at the start of World War 2. His best friend, Uncle Bud, was recruited for the Army’s Special Forces, The Devil’s Brigade. Before his deployment, he took a trip back to their hometown where he encouraged Dad to join the Navy rather than wait to be drafted.Dad followed Uncle Bud’s advice, and after enlisting in the Navy, he was sent to the Alaskan Aleutian Islands after they were bombed by the Japanese. His time in Alaska formed the man I later came to know as my Dad. Through his role as the purveyor of supplies, he gained organizational skills. From being entrusted with Officer-level duties, he exhibited leadership skills. And by climbing cliffs at the sound of air raid sirens warning the troops of the imminent danger they were in, he learned critical survival skills.

Dad loved to recount meeting the Admiral over the South Pacific fleet and tell stories of how the brutally cold weather engulfed the troops or of men who took their own lives after getting Dear John letters from their wives back home. Overall, he spoke fondly of his time there, even with all the stories of hardship. After all, they were the moments that shaped him.

4. Providing nourishing meals may require hard work, but the memories built in your kids’ hearts will be well worth it.

Fast forward to after the war, Dad met and married my mom, who had two children from a prior marriage. A short time later, my brother and I were added to the family. He started a building business in Arlington with his dad and went on to build many of the homes still standing in Arlington, Texas, including the homestead where I live now.

My dad made a business decision to stop building homes and start remodeling existing homes to sell. This, however, was during a time before flipping houses was a million dollar business. I remember winters and many rainy days where he was restless to be on the job, most likely due to the weight & responsibility of providing for his family. There was no paid time off; if he didn’t work, he didn’t get paid.

Growing up, I held the firm belief that cornbread and navy beans with a glass of buttermilk were Dad’s favorite meal. It was not my favorite meal, but it seemed to give dad great pleasure, and he made the most of it. It wasn’t until my 40’s that I realized cornbread and beans were not my dad’s favorite dish, but the result of having a family to feed and little money to do so.

My parents learned to garden to help provide food for the table. I learned to pull weeds, pick beans, squash, & zucchini, and protect tomato plants from Springtime hail. Occasionally, when Dad didn’t curse it out of existence, Mom & I would enjoy fried okra, often counting the pieces to be fair.

They began canning the vegetables so they could be enjoyed throughout the year. I still find myself nostalgic for my Mom’s chow-chow sauce; there is simply nothing like it on the grocery store shelf, and I cherish those meals of beans, cornbread, and chow-chow sauce.

5. Do not get stuck in how it has been done in the past but be willing to change for a more profitable future.

Wisely, one of the things Dad did when building or remodeling a home, was trade the buyer’s existing home plus cash for the new(er) home. These homes often became his rental houses, which provided consistent income to supplement the days he was unable to work and to save for retirement.

It was a smart business move. We sold the last rent house just before Dad turned 90 years old. The rent houses truly did pay dad and mom’s way through life. Daddy used to say he didn’t budget to live into his nineties, but having the rent houses allowed my parents to grow old and financially stable. While they were not wealthy, their needs were provided for, and in the end, that is what matters.

6. Life’s open doors all come down to choice. 

In the midst of bidding and working jobs, Dad became involved in his community by serving on the Arlington Independent School District Board for over 21 years. He was also involved in our church, the Masons and any other committee where he was needed. I’m not sure he ever said no. His heart was full, and he had much to give. And give he did.

Over the years, you will discover your passion in spite of all the obstacles that appear to block your way. There are no true obstacles that could keep you from doing what you want to do; there are only the ones that reside in your head. Keep at it and be determined. Do not let anyone or anything dissuade you from your goal.

7. What others view as a weakness is actually your strength.

My stubbornness has given me the ability to persevere. My independence has given me the ability to take risks. My talkative nature has given me the ability to speak in front of thousands. My dad pointing it out on so many occasions taught me to shut up and listen. Do not let your fear of failure keep you from your potential success. 

Think outside the box and never be stagnant. Determine to have a life of motion and keep moving forward to open other doors, even if it is only one toe at a time.

8. Decide to be the very best at whatever you are doing. 

That might require classes, it might require time or more than a few sacrifices, but hang in there and see it through. Never settle for mediocrity.9. Invest.Sometimes investing is not just financial but also investing in time spent on others. Life is not just about you. I’m sure you have been told this throughout your life, as have I. Over the past fifty years, this has been the hardest lesson for me to learn. Life does not revolve around what I want to do or what I selfishly would like to happen. No, not at all.

Every day I have to embrace this mindset and when I do, I have been able to let go of complaining about life and start maximizing my encounters with people. I choose to speak kindness, to cloak myself in understanding, to make a difference, to listen, to not complain about everything I cannot change and be a catalyst for that which I can change.

10. Be an agent of change. 

We all have the ability and the means to improve the society we live in. Make a positive impact on those around you, and you will not be disappointed. Regardless of your past, regardless of how you feel you have been treated, invest in others’ hearts in some form. Find a cause you are passionate about and dedicate yourself to it, whether in the form of resources or time, any way you can help makes a difference.

The open doors of your future are determined by your choices and not just the big decisions, but the small ones too. Not every decision you make will be right and not every decision will be life-changing. Though, some are, so choose wisely. But remember, your timeline is unique to you. Don’t compare your series Open Doors to that of others. While you may have some of the same doors at the same time as your peers, ultimately yours are different because they are on your timeline.

If you had told me when I was younger that all the doors that have opened would be more than I could have ever imagined, I wouldn’t have believed you. I stand amazed at my life; there honestly has never been a dull moment. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I could make a difference in so many lives and businesses.If you had told Dad when he was younger he would have a junior high named after him in Arlington, he would have never believed you. I met a gal this past week whose parents home was remodeled by my dad and who ended up working at Gunn Jr. High. She knew him on both levels and couldn’t say enough good things about the man my father was. I often tell young dads that there is no greater privilege than for a daughter to be a daddy’s girl. I love my dad and miss him every day, but he left me with a legacy of life lessons.

I truly believe there has never been another time in history where such a vast array of opportunities exists. Life will have inevitable hardships, but it is how we choose to navigate ourselves through the ups and downs that shapes who we are.

It is your timeline, your open doors, and your choice.

The future is yours for the making.