[Pre-claimer: This is not just another ‘advice post’ — it’s a post so close to the heart and so open in its approach that I can only hope that it touches you and gives you permission to fill it with your own meaning. I’d love ask that you to read it with your heart and maybe take a few minutes off to lean in…
I wrote this piece 2 years ago, when my dad passed away. Having celebrated him for the entire week, I felt it was only appropriately filling to re-post this post and move his lessons into the world once more. <3]
To begin: When love has visiting hours, you begin to think how you can get the most out of the time.
You think about how you create a lovely atmosphere when entering the room by bringing sunflowers, stacks of classical music, pictures from the old days, homemade food and all the lovely rest.
The one thing you never think about bringing (but naturally do) is a big breath before entering the room, to be as much of a “powerwoman” as you can possibly be. You never think about whether today is a good day to enter his hospital room. You just enter. No. Rather, you don’t just enter; you follow the overwhelming directive of your heart — a subconscious, intuitive, loving, humble, powerful heartbeat ONLY belonging to one mission towards success: Just one smile of your dad. His moving fingertip on your hand. His eyes opening up to recognize his girls. The chance to tell him about your day and how it’s already become cold outside. For the one moment, you fall asleep next to his bed and feel his weak hand touching your forehead. The moment when his arm and hand are somehow still able to move and wave goodbye when you are entering and leaving the room.
On October 30th, after two years of fighting cancer and several heart and brain surgeries, our dad took his last big breath and departed the room as our one and only Superman. At the end of the day of all those happenings, he was back in the hospital room waiting for us to enter the room. Whether comatose or not, asleep or not, tired (of life) or not, there he was and we knew he was waiting for us to enter… just so that he could check on us — like he always did. I now somehow want to make sure that some of his saga continues and his thoughtful lessons get spread.
Most dads are the best dads on Earth. Certainly. Have you called yours recently? If not, go (please) call him, tell him how much you love him, and then come back to this post if you like.
We—my sister and I—were at his bedside day in, day out for the last months and there was one important thing I became slowly aware of: To us, Dad was not just a father, but also the most mindful, critical, sincere mentor and entrepreneurial mind. He never just had his own professional business.
He always had another business and team, who we aimed to set up for success: Us, his girls!
It might seem cruel or flippant or disrespectful that I’m using the passing of our loved one to write about “success”. Troublesome, maybe??
Treating relationships as young teams or start-ups is a powerful approach. Consider it as an analogy; consider it much more as a way of living.
So, what I aim to do here is to share my reflections on our dad’s parenting approaches, which I believe include some of the key ingredients for any successful (start-up) team.
What do I mean when I say “start-up”? How is it defined? It is basically and most necessarily ANY relationship of people coming together over a bigger idea, a great desire. Any idea which makes your heart beat faster, which keeps you awake at night and gets you up in the morning— let it be that (wo)man you met recently, the team you’ve assembled to build that one big thing, the company you’re building to solve a world challenge or the family you envision with three kids for whom you just put down your first 100 bucks in a savings account in times of absolute monetary scarcity.
Please, you name it for yourself.
It is for those who may find themselves in times of stress and conflict and to support them to change perspective. It is for those teams who aim to work on moving away from great team work towards THE ART OF TOGETHERNESS. We all know, we are not perfect, we are flawed, we have been hurt in the past and carry certain fears of loss and failure. Yet, we should practice and embrace vulnerability with and for each other, learn to get back up again and continue the ride.
I learned from him and aim to remember that “the joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun […]once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”
This is a big and constant ask for progress and paying a lot of attention to what you value and appreciate in life and what the missing parts are. Choosing this degree of open-mindedness is difficult. It demands you to OWN your beliefs and values you have chosen to be true through your own experiences and any sort of education and yet still choose to be possibly wrong, always ready to leave your comfort zone. For me, every burst of progress required a burst of reflection and realization on my own.
Today, I would say you learn the most every time you ask for progress. Yet, every progress comes with some form of initial failure. In fact, failure means nothing else than doing something you didn’t know before; you literally ask your world for something you do not know.
Some of you may know this fairly well — Every young (start-up) team stands on that particular edge, the edge of success and failure, as they dare to approach the unknown. We all do. Why? Every time we think we fall, every time we dare to do something new, the continuous risk to love something or someone. “What if it does not work out?” “ Ahh and what if it does?” In between both stands a choice. Beating the unknown, uncertainties and fear is the most vulnerable state we can be in. I am slowly starting to understand that it is not facing the uncertainties itself we are fearing, yet much more whether we are surrounded by people who would support you and giving you the space, compassion, sincere butt-kicks and time to grow with it. Those who catch you while you are falling. Without it we program ourselves to be hard, tough and tell ourselves how strong we are or that we can be on our own — showing everyone what you got. In this very moment we begin to shift the purpose of love into a battle of power.
I am honoured to step into my father’s shoes here and share what I was able to learn from his tries, learnings and how important it is to create environments, in which I am allowed to try, to maybe even fail.
I am allowing my hands to write about his most memorable quotes and what he taught us. The floor is all his. Some of them may seem so straight forward, but in most times this is where we fail — the obvious is always least understood, especially when it comes to the true appreciation of those closest to us.
- “One thing is certain. You can be as terrible as you can be. I will always be your loving father. “
Certainty is comfortable. Whether you are growing a team or raising kids — it’s adventurous. Just as any leader, as a father raising his own kids and starting his own “family startup” you need to learn to build a ground of certainty. When they are young, you aim to control, ensure they understand the basics, teach them how to walk and/the talk. We often claim certainty and comfort for us, desiring to know that we have done everything we can. But certainty can also be the greatest enemy to the creative and loving mind. Over the past months, I learned how much my father had questioned himself throughout our childhood, I learned that he always wondered if he was completely wrong in how he raised us as his personal team. He knew he wanted his kids to be the best versions of themselves, which is why he knew that we needed to leave the nest, travel beyond our hometown walls, and have roots to come back to. The chance for this form of self-discovery is rare in times where certainty often equals quick process installation. Very generally, it gets supported by a rigid, non-experiential education system and pre-determined societal definitions of success — Careerism. He instead served us by providing his ‘minimum viable input’ each time we would go on self- discovery course. He served with inspiration, not with dictation. Inspiration carries a long-term approach and actionizing inspiration comes with trial and error, which looks pretty unsexy in everyday life. Why is trial and error so necessary? In any young business, people are the blueprint, the drivers to success. As a leader in a grassroot, unknown business environment, consider that you could be completely wrong. Remind yourself to do something we often claim as ‘chaos’ these days to be of absolute necessity. It keeps you not only going spiritually, but supports a culture of Q&A. Every contribution could be of significant value to the growth, success and well-being of the team(’s mission). Seeking order out of chaos is a creative process. Equip your team with the tools they need and create a culture of Q&A. Yet, it is a leader’s mindset of curiosity and humility which sets the cornerstone of such a culture. Your startup team is your blueprint, your business card for anything to come — you want to make sure they believe it can get as terrible as it can get and you are all still walking into the office door the next day and be ready to go and be asked.
2. “ My respect to you is to push you to know what you don’t know.”
The decision to cultivate a Q&A [trial & error] culture is an act of respect. This environment is one, in which my flaws are not being defined as my character but my path orientation, the learning I am exposing myself to, the appreciation of my intentions to know and do better — to try. This environment reveals your belief in the people you are surrounded by — your belief that they not only mean well but much more are continuously striving to get up for the better as well as showing the ability to immerse yourself to an “unconventional approach to learning , an improvisational flexibility not merely about which route to take towards some predetermined objective, but also a willingness to change the destination itself” for your overarching pursuit of happiness. Every relationship pursuing meaning over rapid growth, interdependence over independence needs the respect of its very own context.
Having said this, my dad’s respect to us as his kids and anyone’s respect to their co-founders is to push each other what they do not know and find out — the ones open to the unknown learn everyday.
What does this mean? Reach out to mentors, find people from your industry, let your parents be part of what you do. Yet, tailor the advice to what you need and respect that everybody walks to a different beat and for different reasons. Every piece of advice is and can only be a representation of someone else’s path and experiences, never stop empowering yourself from your own beat and keep asking — Context is king… your context is king.
3. “How’s your ego today?”
Feeling miserable, feeling offended, feeling misunderstood most often is a matter of your own betrayal, your mind playing tricks with you, often based on your past. Pursuing whatever your dream is hard work and demands big amounts of selfless efforts. It seems natural that your emotions can go wild at times — It is challenging and frustrating at times, requires constant work and determination even if you are having a miserable day. But please, do not forget that not everybody needs to be part of your ‘ride’ and your ‘volatile enthusiasm’. Check your ego before you enter the room with your beloved ones — consider those close enough to be part of your success in life. Whether it is your team, (wo)man, kids, you name it and loop them in. Make it clear how you feel and where you are at. Put everyone on the same page, not only on your project agenda but also on your emotional agenda. This one seems to be so right under our nose, so obvious…which is why it is forgotten so many times. Reactions of pure instinct cause little mini-wars, let us forsake what we already have in common and creates emotional gaps. With 7 billion people on this planet and enough true problems and world challenges on the door step, we should take responsibility in getting our basics right — The art of togetherness and communication. Working together requires checking in with each other.
How’s your ego today?
4. “I want to meet you for a fight on Wednesday”
You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life. — Winston Churchill
Against all odds and that you want to prepare for success, everyone knows that you will never be able to master the art of togetherness fully. In fact, those who care do not eliminate conflict. The ones who foster a Q&A culture over complacent behavior will certainly and without any doubt face conflict. In any place where liberal, independent minds can meet, conflict inevitably arises. Call it a downside….or call it growth. Every true relationship faces obstacles when they are growing or aiming to grow… But all this can be healthy. Healthy conflict.
Our dad literally invited us, scheduled a specific date [he usually stopped work for it on wednesdays] with us to talk about the “less fun topics” — School work, the first job, our future, the last feedback of the teacher [basically everything a teenager does not want to deal with]. With this approach, both sides find the time to prepare themselves and create considered thoughts — let’s face it: It makes things so much easier. Everybody enters the room with clear expectations.
For us, we knew it was not just “happy lunch time” with daddy. We clearly hated him for it in that moment when the door opened ☺— but now? What do my thoughts tells me? “You can be as terrible as you can be. I will always be your loving father.” Off we went — rolling out the topic, sharing thoughts, going on and on.. And even if it got loud, we always left with action plans, new ideas or a list of possible first jobs as a teenager, ideas to improve grades or what the benefits could be to join that theatre group in school… Just now after looking at all those folders in our apartment again I appreciate the amount of time he scheduled fights with us — how he mentored us and pushed us “to know what we did not knew”.
After all, it is surely just one way of doing it, but for all young teams out there, it’s a fantastic way of supporting each other with comments, critical feed-back and feed-forward. By picking a certain time frame of doing so, you make sure it is not piling up over time and gets released in the every day work — it serves as a place of open conflict and ensures that each other’s goals as well as the overall organizational goal is supported. It supports open exchange and most often open conflict leads to new ideas, new exchange and possible new projects to advance the growth of the team’s mission.
5. “Pick a punishment until tonight. I love you.”
Yes it really is true — he really let us pick our own punishments as kids. Just imagine how difficult that is when you are 7 years old and can’t decide to give away your 20 min TV time, riding the bike for a day or playing in the park for 2 days…
The learning I took away from it? May it be for the hour, for the day or for longer, sometimes we all need a necessary ending — Coming back together after a bigger argument, after terrible news or two bigger egos colliding sometimes scream for a break. Re-thinking it by yourself cannot only be calming, but just as in the section before, it gives you space to create considered, meaningful, value-adding thought to leave your ego aside and respect the other one — calming anger, sadness, frustration. It creates space for yourself to re-think the matter and be critical about yourself.
We could save so much anger when we’d know how to control our attitude and get to know our own flaws first and then start working on it together.
6. “Fall seven times, get up 8.”
I’d like to step back in as his daughter and conclude along these lines: I feel proud to write about this. Meanwhile and especially when I lived millions of miles away, I had to admit that I was well life-equipped. It was the heart and mind he educated… it was the tedious, nitty-gritty ‘help for self- help’ he equipped us with, ensuring that we would acknowledge that there is nothing, absolutely nothing terrible about falling 7 times and standing up 8 as long as we’d continue learning from it— In fact: He taught us to celebrate every time you stood up for the 8th time, cause of what it would ensure us… a life well- used and -spent. Something I am only fully starting to realize now in its significance.
Fall seven times, stand up eight: Pick yourself up; write down a list of lessons from your recent experiences and key decisions.
In some ways, this is what I am doing right now. Losing my beloved father is the greatest loss I have experienced in my very young life. Sleeping next to his hospital beds for the last weeks, holding hands when he could barely hang on, absolutely re-appreciating the love to my sister and how I want to just keep on scheduling fights with her to make sure she is going to be my best mate for life, re-recognizing that every independence and all-nighter work session and startup successes and [….] mean just nothing without the right accomplices to come home to share joy, frustration and catching each other while falling or jumping in the air with each other when you just conquered the world. Huge growth, loads of pain, emotional failures and so testing for those around me.
At the end of the day, we all have to die. Yet, life’s finite nature shouldn’t to walk to your own beat and strive for your our happiness. You define it. It is not owning a business that makes you an entrepreneur, but the way you perceive, love, challenge, and serve your whole life — Adding endless internships on your CV is not serving your life, just as going on travels for the sake of traveling will not broaden your horizon. The reasons, the thought behind your action will make it meaningful.
Personal growth [YOUR growth] is a process towards success and a damn hard one of discarding the untruths, something that doesn’t serve you and your world. Go and find out — it is more painful, more tedious, feels so unfair at times, but you may end up so much more successful than anyone else who sits in a comfortable chair at home and raised his/her heartbeat due to the happy ending of a movie. Edit your own story.
Success is the moment you decide to get up — after you thoroughly edited your story — and go. Success is that moment between the 7th fall and the 8th time getting up, celebrating.
Thank you, dad! I love you. I am almost there… Give me a little bit longer to process what happened this past year. I am editing.
We both had difficult times, I was grazed by the life out there, hungry and sometimes missed your sincerity and deep messages. Let me ask for your forgiveness. You are the by far the best founder of a beautiful family corporation anyone could have ever asked for. Be sure — I and we will continue your saga and will be off to serve other teams and our families in the future. Hopefully making the world a little better place — One mindful heartbeat at the time.
This post is in full, loving dedication and support to my sister, Julia.