Home Topics Success Solopreneur Lessons: What I Learned Getting My Daughters to Work

Solopreneur Lessons: What I Learned Getting My Daughters to Work

I woke up at 5 a.m. in a tent on Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. The sun hadn’t risen yet, but the birds – so many birds – were united in their attempt to call them out of their sleep.

Since I was unable to get back to sleep, I focused on every single call. I tried in vain to count how many different species of birds broke my sleep. An audience of one, I thought, I listened as they started the world. As it turned out, the audience was bigger than just me.

When I was excited about this chirped performance, my then 5-year-old daughter turned around and said: “Dad, it sounds like music!”

My heart could have exploded in my chest. Before that moment, I had refused to take my girls on outings, especially business trips. I feared my love for the wilderness would surpass her love and neither of us would have fun. No more. In the six years since then, I’ve taken my two girls (14 and 11) with me for all kinds of work, travel, and adventure assignments. We went to camping, skiing, stargazing, a hot air balloon race and more.

I take my daughters to work for many reasons. The most important thing is fun. I think it’s a great blessing that I can combine work and family on outings that we all enjoy. I’ll do it as long as they go with me. (Tick-tick goes around the clock.) I worked for my father for four summers and met him differently when I saw him interact with people unrelated to his role as my father. I hope some of this happens to my daughters too. I want you to hear me talk about something other than clean rooms, full dishwashers, and bedtime.

I hope you get to know the business world too. I think they have. I learned at least as much as she did.

Lesson 1: When You Say You Are Going To Do It, Do It.

I stepped outside and the wind lashed my shoulders and legs. The ambient temperature was 25 and the wind made it much worse. I grew up in Michigan so I usually don’t mind such temperatures. On the other hand, I’m usually fully clothed. On that day in early February, I was wearing only shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt (which I ironically found funny and instead just made me so much colder) and wanted to jump into a lake for the Special Olympics as part of a fundraiser.

As good as that is, my chills made me question my own judgment. When my 14 year old said she wanted to do a polar jump, I thought it was a great idea and I encouraged her to do it. The “mistake” I made was when she found it difficult to convince her friends. I said I would come with her so she wouldn’t have to do it alone.

When we stood by the water and waited to rush in, I was miserably cold, but I was also glad to see that my daughter was shivering from the cold too. I try to teach my kids to do hard things precisely because they’re tough, and they seemed to adopt that ethos.

The moderator chatted on and on. Finally he yelled “go”. I sprinted to the water, took a few steps into it, and then jumped so that I fell on my back. My daughter dived next to me. The average pool is around 80 degrees. The water temperature of Lake St. Louis was 39.

The shock of hitting the water was sharp, as if someone had waxed my entire back at once. My sitting heart rate is 62. In the water it was 100. But that wasn’t the worst. The worst part was getting out of the water when the 25-degree air and icy wind chilled my bones. As I ran ashore, it felt like someone had grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled it tight enough to take my breath away.

My daughter turned lobster red. We walked over concrete from the beach to get in, and every step felt like stepping on nails. We shuffled in and gradually the pain all over the body subsided like a resounding mountain scream.

The obvious lesson here is, when you say you are going to do something, do it. I was about to retire before we left the house when we stepped outside into the cold as the host was talking and talking. But quitting would have been way, way worse than jumping in the water (and jumping in the water was bad).

My biggest source of frustration as a solo preneur is clients who say they do X and then they don’t. Ghosting has become so commonplace that we had to come up with a word for it. I try very hard not to do to others what I don’t want to do to myself. I am not perfect at it. But if I can jump into 39-degree water on a 25-degree day, I can hit a challenging deadline.

As cold as it was on the day we did it, the wind chill on the following Saturday was negative 17. I’m grateful that I didn’t have to keep my promise back then.

Sub-lesson: Learn to say “no”. My wife and daughter said, “No way, not how; when we invited them to join us on the polar leap. If you’re new to the solo preneur life and wondering how to make ends meet, you’ll say yes to every gig. I encourage You have to say “no” at some point, it’s liberating.

Lesson 2: The end result is not the most important thing.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but when I saw mice in the living room and kitchen of our cabin in Ohio, my first instinct was to ignore my daughter when she immediately wanted to leave.

It was 10 p.m., we had already spent eight hours in the car and I was sleeping. The closest hotel was a 30-minute drive on dirt roads through the mountains. Plus, I had already paid for four nights in the cabin and based on online reviews from the owner, a refund seemed unlikely. If I had to eat that expense and pay four nights elsewhere, I would hardly be making any money doing this job.

I changed my mind and went to a hotel because I don’t want to be the type of dad who prioritizes a better price over his daughter’s comfort. We went. And I got the refund anyway.

Sub-lesson: Stand up for yourself. Mice in the living room and in the kitchen of a cubicle are not acceptable. If my daughter saw me accept this, what would she accept that she shouldn’t?

Lesson 3: Think Why.

I am mostly a journalist because I am passionate about meeting new people, dealing with new topics, and starting new adventures. Whatever the subject, I dive in dizzy.

A few years ago I sold a story for which I documented a summer-long attempt to get my first hole-in-one. One day my girls came to me on the golf course. They bounced across the square like it was a playground. At the first hole I had to tell them not to run on the green. I wanted to warn her to behave. This is not a game. Then I realized that this was all new to them and they showed the same passion that I have for something new.

Telling them to calm down would be like telling myself to calm down when I have a new experience. “Why can’t I ride cartwheels on the green?” one of them asked, and my meager answer sounded so pathetic that I will not repeat it. ((Sub-lesson: Don’t take anything so seriously that you can’t laugh at wagon wheels.)

Later that summer, the novelty of going to the golf course had faded, and I bribed my then 8-year-old with donuts to take away. I remade it for her by sitting on my lap and driving the golf cart while I hit the gas and brakes.

“Papa, papa, he’s our man; If he can’t, nobody can! “She sang on a tee.

A minute later I got the hole-in-one.

The first thing she said after I stopped screaming was, “Should we call mom?” She asked again a minute later. She couldn’t wait to share the news.

“Boy am I glad I went with you!” she said when we got to the green to get the ball. This is not just a highlight of my career, but of my whole life.

Lesson 4: When You Do Hard Things, You Can Do Harder Things.

Unfortunately, I learned that late in life. If there is one thing I could tell my younger self, it would be to do harder things.

I saw the value of it on a high ropes course in Colorado when I was there with my wife and kids on a family vacation. My daughter, then 13 years old, faced one of the challenges. She was standing on a platform, a bundle of ropes in the shape of a huge U dangling in front of her. To get over, she had to walk from one U to the next with nothing but the ropes to hold on and step on.

She was 20 feet off the ground and strapped in place with no risk of falling or injuring herself. But if she lost her footing or failed, she would feel like she was falling, even if she really wasn’t. ((Sub-lesson: Ask yourself: what’s the worst that can happen? and answer honestly. As bad as the challenge is, it’s never as bad as you think.)

It started, it froze. She started again, froze again. She asked me for help. But my own attempts with this device failed. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t teach her or help her; I could only encourage them.

She finally found out.

The look on her face when she was done … joy, relief, satisfaction, it all melted together. I’m trying not to be a pretentious teachable moment so I didn’t say anything. I trust that she will remember the high ropes course the next time she is faced with a difficult task that she thinks she cannot do.

I know that I will.

Read On: 3 Tips For Solo Preneurs To Stay Ahead In An Ever Changing World

Photo by @ TonyTheTigersSon / Twenty20.com

Matt Crossman is a writer and lives in St. Louis. He writes about sports, travel, adventure, and professional development. Email him at [email protected]


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