Last week, I received voice mail from my Dad, asking me to give him a call back when I had a minute, because he’d been thinking of some things and wanted to talk to me about them.

He had a sort of excitement in his voice.

The same sort of excitement a scientist might have after making a new discovery. Unsure of what to expect, I called him back.

It turns out “RD”, as he’s affectionately known in the family, had been thinking about the life he’d lived, and he’d been observing the entrepreneurial path I’ve been pursuing. It was a path he had taken in his younger days. From selling newspapers on the corner of Jersey City, to selling fire pumps to companies he had no business dealing with, he had set out his own path to freedom. He wanted to provide me a different life than his; one where my siblings and I could pursue our own passions and make our respective marks on the world.

He wanted to give me every chance to succeed that he could.

Now that I’m 29 and pursuing my own journey, he called to share his life lessons. He started talking, and it was one of those conversations where he was completely baring his soul, and passing down all of his knowledge, so I immediately ran to get my journal and take notes on what he had to say.

These are the words of wisdom he had for me:

1) Everything is accomplished by setting goals

Seneca, on having goals

This was his main point. If you don’t set goals, and if you’re not pursuing them every day, you have no road to success. “Think about everything you want to do”, he said, “then break it down to what it will take to achieve it, then go do it”. The process goes like this:

  • Figure out the things you want to do or the person you want to become – maybe it’s to be the CEO of a Corporation, or the founder of your own start-up, or to be an important community member who increases the qualities of others lives.
  • Then, break it down to what it takes to attain that position or become that person. Chances are, there are blueprints that you can follow to every place you want to go.
  • Use those blueprints, and your own intuition to breakdown your larger goal into smaller bite-sized goals, and start working on those goals.
  • Want to be a expert coder? There’s a blue print for that. Want to be a great guitar player? There’s a blueprint for that as well. “Be specific and get in the right mindset,” he said, “once you do that, you’ll start to achieve small goals and that will get you closer to the ultimate goal,”

    2) Build the right habits

    “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

    As brilliant as we are as a species, much of our daily decision making and activities are guided by the years and years of habits that we and others have programmed into ourselves. We’re on autopilot for a large portion of the day. This should illustrate how important habits are in every aspect of your life.

    Habits can be your most loyal servant, or a cruel master, which would you prefer.

    One regret my Dad confided to me while on the phone was that when he came home and had free time, that he didn’t get right to work, and build out his ideas. He wanted to hammer home to me that building the right habits is critical to becoming successful. It doesn’t happen by itself.

    We shape our habits → Our habits shape our actions. → Our actions determine our success.

    “Once you start concentrating on a goal [and it’s habitual] it becomes automatic,” he told me.

    A single-mindedness and laser-like focus on your goals will build the foundation of habits you need that will be like 10,000 little hands carrying you to your goals. “Every day, focus on one aspect and one task that’s going to help you get closer to achieving your goals.” This strategy is actually a pretty popular one among productivity writers. A book called “Eat that Frog” by Brian Tracy is predicated on doing the hardest and most important things first in the day, and then the rest will fall into place after that.

    Good habits are the lifeblood of execution.

    3) Focus on what you can control

    “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    The courage to change the things I can,
    And the wisdom to know the difference.” – Serenity Prayer

    “Part of it (success) is strategy, and part of it is luck.” He told me. You need to focus on what is in your control, and let the rest fall where it may.Sometimes, you can’t control the results, you can only hope for the best. So why would you waste mental calories worrying about parts of the puzzle you can’t control? This is also known as being “Process-oriented”

    4) Don’t be afraid to Celebrate your successes

    Story time from RD:

    “I remember receiving a call from a Tennessee factory. One of their kilns went down. They needed a piece of metal immediately. It was an emergency, because they were losing tens of thousands of dollars per day while this kiln was down. So, I pulled a few strings, leaned on a few contacts, and was able find it and get this piece of metal over-nighted to them. I probably saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars, because they couldn’t find that piece anywhere else.”

    My Dad has told me that story several times, as father’s tend to repeat their stories to their children. I love hearing him tell that story because he swells with pride every time. He’s clearly marked that day down in the “win” column in his life, and he celebrates that win to this day.

    But in life, sometimes you’re so focused on what you could be doing better, you forget about all the progress you’ve made, and all the milestones you’ve passed on your road to success. Personally, I’m terrible at this. I expect so much out of myself that when I’m not lighting the world on fire, I’m quick to get disappointed in myself. I forget about my master’s degree, my amazing family & friends, my speaking engagements, and all of the other amazing stuff that I’ve done throughout my life.

    You’ve got to make it a point to celebrate your wins. That’s why the BuildTheFire boys have a quarterly “celebration dinner” to recognize all that we’ve done in the past quarter, although that may soon switch to a “celebration sauna” at the local Russian banya.

    5) The Only Person You Have to Prove anything to is yourself

    Oscar Wilde: Be yourself, everybody else is already taken

    We are inherently social animals. On any given day, we interact with tens, if not hundreds of people. We crave this interaction. Dr. James House has estimated that social isolation is about as harmful as cigarette smoking. So it’s no surprise that there is an underlying yearning for others’ approval. Even still, there is only one person that you need approval from, and it’s yourself.

    If you ever catch yourself doing things you would never do, just to win the favor of others, then you’ve compromised yourself and your values. And if you continue that type of behavior, somewhere down the road, you’ll look in the mirror and have a hard time being happy with the person you have become.

    It’s incredibly important that you stay true to yourself. That’s the only approval you need.

    Surprisingly enough, I’ve found that in my personal life, when you do live authentically, you become a much more magnetic person. People become enamored with you, because it’s such a rare thing to experience. Living authentically inevitably brings conflict, and as Tim Ferris says, “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”

    Lastly, he left me with this. “My money is on you, i know you can be successful”.

    My money is on me too, Dad. After all, it’s basically a bet on your parenting. And that’s something I’d be willing to bet a fortune on.