As the father of a young man I never say those words but I do admit to occasionally thinking them. And I know for a fact that many parents across the world think and say those same words.
The words aren’t new. My dad said the same words to me about 40 years ago and there is little doubt my dad’s father said the same thing to him.
The concern and caring behind this advice is obvious. After all nearly every father wants their children to be successful and do well in life. But the true meaning of those words is less obvious.
When dad told me to stop f*cking up my life and get with the program he was basically saying “stop messing around. Go out get a job and work for the next 30 years.”
I heard a more polite, but equally pointed version of the same advice from the majority of my teachers as well, only they were in effect telling me to stop screwing around and get a good education and THEN go out and get the best possible job I could.
In fact, during my teenage years, most adults in my life gave me roughly the same advice.
In effect most people were suggesting that I should go out into the world and become a good employee, preferably for a company that paid well and offered health benefits. The message was that if I worked hard I could become a steady employee, a good tax payer and a reliable consumer.
If I did those things I could live comfortably in a nice home with a wife and a couple of kids.
In the absence of better advice I found a steady job at a great company and spent 28 years there. Through that time I enjoyed a very nice standard of living and continue to be very grateful for all of the opportunities and rewards I was afforded.
The company did a great job of looking after me. I received excellent pay, medical benefits, promotions and a good pension. If need arose I was fully supported by a whole team of people including lawyers, it staff, security personnel, strategic planners and human resource professionals.
The company only required that I show up, do my work and follow their rules.
But, through all of the years I had a little niggling doubt that roamed the hallways of my mind.
The doubt was this;
Despite all the years of obedience, compromise, investment and effort very little of what I did reflected my passions, interests, talents or strengths to the level I wanted. Nor did I own a stake in the company.
Aside from being unable to fully explore and express my talents and strengths I was also protected. I never got to test my strengths and capabilities in a true business environment. I never had to find my own customers, take my own risks or even cover the losses from my own mistakes I made.
As I sit on the Far Side of Fifty thinking about the people who told me to stop f*king around w my life and get with the program several observations come to mind;
- All of those people were themselves part of an institution. There wasn’t an artist or entrepreneur among them,
- None of people who I took advice from were risk takers. As a result they lived their lives as dutiful employees within a larger system,
- No one who ever advised taking the safe route went to their graves knowing they had explored the very limits of their capabilities,
- None of those people even attempted to make a dent in the universe (thanks to Steve Jobs for the quote).
Several years ago I was reflecting on the quote from John Shedd who said;
“A ship in harbour is safe but that is not what ships are built for” and I realized that I had a choice.
I could lead a life of safety or a life of satisfaction, but not both.
40 years after receiving that sage advice from my father I have decided that I will not be passing it along. Upon reflection I am forced to admit that “stop f*cking around and get with the program” may not be the best possible advice for everyone.
Instead I am going to suggest to my son that he explore the world with an open heart, do his best, work with his strengths, experiment with new things, learn from his failures and do his best to enjoy the ride. After all none of us knows when it will end.
Yup. I think that is probably the best advice I can give him.
If someone wants to give their kids different advice feel free, but my mind is made up.
Thanks for reading success on the far side of fifty.
Have a great week.