More Father’s Day advice – from readers

Several weeks ago I used this column to share lessons I learned from my parents in recognition of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  My intention was to honor mothers and fathers everywhere for the wisdom they impart to their children.

The column apparently struck a chord, because I had a record response from readers about similar advice they received from their parents.  And with Father’s Day here, I can’t think of a better time to pass some of them on to you.

One person said her father taught her the difference between needs and wants.  There are items that we need in order to live and then there are items that we want but can live without.

Another writer mentioned character.  He said it wasn’t something his parents taught him, but rather showed him in the way they lived their lives.  In other words, want a good kid?  Be a good adult.


One reader even sent a link to a video that was made as a tribute to his own father as well as a legacy for his sons that explained his philosophy of life.  It was so inspirational, and given modern technology, an enduring gift that many of us can imitate.

And on and on the responses went.  How gratifying that so many chose to share their own experiences of the tremendous wisdom gleaned from their fathers and mothers alike.  Here are some of the dozens that I received.

  • All choices have consequences.  Stop and think about what you are doing and what might result.  And then accept responsibility for your actions, even if it hurts.
  • Appreciate what you have.  It’s more important to want what you have than to have everything you want.
  • Trust your instincts, but always do your homework. The time it takes to do a little – or a lot – of research to confirm your hunches is time well spent.
  • Almost doesn’t count.  Don’t settle for almost right, or almost finished, or almost good enough.
  • Hard work means no shortcuts.  Work efficiently, but do the job right.  Cutting corners doesn’t cut it.
  • Always have a contingency plan.  Life is full of surprises.  Sometimes you have to change your plan or your strategy to deal with those events.  I call this making mid-course corrections.
  • Embrace life’s choices head on.  It’s your life, so live it to the fullest.  You never want to look back with regrets about “what if?”
  • Values matter.  When you sacrifice your values, you sacrifice your reputation.
  • You are only as good as your word.  If people can’t trust you to tell the truth, then nothing else matters.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  • Cream doesn’t rise to the top; it works its way up.  Paying your dues is not a punishment, it’s called getting experience.
  • Choose family over money.  No amount of money or success can take the place of spending time with your family or those closest to you.
  • Forgive and forget.  Carrying a grudge is a heavy burden.  Wouldn’t you rather rise above than sink down to the offender’s level?
  • Hope springs eternal.  When you give up hope, you give up.

I am grateful that I can still hear my father’s advice when I need to make a tough decision.  I learned not only from his words but also from his example.

My good friend Lou Holtz said the best advice he ever got about marriage and raising a family is that the most important thing you can do as a father is to show your children that you love their mother.

And here’s what Martha Stewart said about her own dad:  “The best advice I’ve ever received was from my father when I was 12 years old and willing to listen.  He told me that with my personal characteristics, I could, if I set my mind to it, do anything I chose.  This advice instilled in me a great sense of confidence, and despite the fact that sometimes I was a little nervous, I stepped out and did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.  I think it really often is up to the parents to help build confidence in their children.  It is a very necessary part of growing up.”

Mackay’s Moral:  Parents teach lessons even when they think no one is watching. 

It doesn’t get any more real than this

From all appearances, Gretchen Carlson has lived a charmed life.  From being a child violin prodigy to admission to Stanford University to becoming Miss America to a tremendously successful broadcast television personality, happily married with two children she adores, she seems to have it all.

GettingRealBut it was not just handed to her, nor was it a series of lucky breaks.  Gretchen’s brand new book, “Getting Real,” is a how-to for developing a life plan and carrying it out.

I am delighted to recommend this memoir by a fellow native Minnesotan.  Her story is a remarkable example of how hard work and discipline produced results in every phase of her life.

In her own words, Gretchen was accustomed to making sacrifices to achieve her goals.  Whether it was practicing her violin for hours, studying hard to achieve perfect grades, working out and preparing relentlessly for the Miss America pageant, or hitting the bricks to break into television news reporting, she kept her goals in plain sight and persevered until she reached them.

She shares how she picked up her violin after a several-year hiatus to prepare for the Miss Minnesota pageant:  “Once I started practicing, I was instantly back in my old mode.  I discovered that the competitive spirit never goes away.  Returning to music taught me something, not just about playing the violin, but about having that fire, that desire to achieve . . . I had put aside my drive, thinking it was time for a rest.  But I saw I needed it, I was born with it.  You can teach people skills to hone their craft, but unless they have the fire in their belly, the skills don’t matter.  I never again let my passion slide.”

Gretchen’s strategy to become Miss America ran counter to the usual contestant’s path.  She learned the system by observing rather than participating, turning what she was told is often a four-year plan into a one-year project.  She researched her competition and studied the judges.  She prepared at every level.

The theme of the 1989 Miss America pageant was “A Salute to Success!”  Gretchen says, “I’m not saying that looks didn’t enter it, although I wasn’t even close to being the prettiest.  It was about competing on a high level and challenging myself to be at the top of my game.  It was about winning scholarship money that would help me pursue my dreams . . . and by the way, I would say to this day that there’s nothing wrong with being smart, talented and attractive.”

Let me add a personal note here.  I was a judge at the 2001 Miss America pageant, and it is so much more than a beauty contest.  Talent counts for 40 percent of the score, the evening gown/personality/expression portion is 40 percent, and the swimsuit competition is 20 percent.  In other words, a contestant must be talented and well-spoken if she hopes to have any chance of winning.

But being Miss America didn’t automatically open doors for her future.  After completing her degree at Stanford, Gretchen faced the same challenge that so many new grads faced:  You can’t get hired without experience, and you can’t get experience without being hired.  Again, perseverance and hard work won the day.

Her job search led her to Richmond, Virginia, and then to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas and New York.  She had to deal with sexual harassment and an on-going threat from a stalker who followed her from city to city.  Her fighting spirit, however, helped her keep her goal in view.  She mentions one of her proudest achievements, the American Women in Radio and Television “Best Series” award for a thirty-part series on domestic violence for KSAX in Dallas.  She currently hosts “The Real Story” on the Fox News Channel.

As a mother, she shares her work ethic with her children.  “Personally, I have ambition for my kids to excel, but these days it’s a challenge to define for them what excellence really means,” she says.  “I know from experience how wonderful it is to compete and win, and while it is disappointing to lose, it’s also an opportunity for parents to teach kids a very important lesson – that failure in life is a key to success.”

Gretchen has shared a fascinating story that serves as a blueprint for setting goals and achieving success.  Hard work, determination, perseverance – now that’s “Getting Real.”

For more information go to or to find out more about the book go to


Mackay’s Moral:  Let this Miss America show you how to achieve the real American dream.

With great teamwork, everyone wins

One day the Body and all its parts began to criticize the Belly for enjoying a life of idleness and luxury, while they spent all their time working to feed it.  So they entered into a conspiracy to cut off the Belly’s supplies in the future.

The Hands would no longer carry food to the Mouth, nor would the Mouth receive the food, nor would the Teeth chew it.  Not long after following this plan, the parts began to fail, and the whole body began to waste away.

Then the members realized that the Belly, which seemed cumbersome and useless, had an important function of its own.  They could no more do without it than it could do without them.  If they wanted to keep the body in a healthy state, they must work together, each in his proper sphere, for the common good of all.

The moral of this Aesop’s Fable:  Only by working together can the greatest good for all be achieved.

In a word, teamwork.

I preach teamwork constantly, for without it, why would you bother to have more than one employee?  Why would you contract with vendors, suppliers, distributors or even customers for that matter?

You have to work together.

Everyone wants to be the star.  Unfortunately, stars rarely win anything by themselves.  For any star to shine, they need a team behind them.

A true team consists of people who contribute different skills that all work together to achieve a goal that none of them could accomplish on their own.

BabeRuthAsk Babe Ruth if he could have won a single baseball game all by himself.  Ask Henry Ford if he could have built a car company all by himself.  Ask Thomas Edison if he could have made all his inventions all by himself.

No matter how good you are, you can be better when you work with the right team.  In the business world, you need to provide an atmosphere where teamwork is not only encouraged but expected.

More importantly, everyone on the team not only has to pursue the same goal, but they also have to feel that their role is crucial to the team’s success.

In 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy declared that he wanted the United States to put a man on the moon by the end of that decade.  Shortly afterwards, a newspaper reporter visited NASA and interviewed the engineers, technicians and scientists who were working on the rocket that would eventually put Neil Armstrong on the moon.

After interviewing everyone at NASA, the reporter saw a woman janitor scrubbing the front steps.  When the reporter asked this woman what her role in NASA was, she proudly said, “I’m helping put a man on the moon!”

When you have a goal that everyone can believe in, nothing can stop your team from accomplishing what seemed impossible.

To illustrate the importance of assembling a team, consider these questions:

Do you need more than one person?  Maybe the work calls for different skill sets or different perspectives.  Or maybe it’s just too much work for one person to handle.  For example, a chef alone can’t run a restaurant; waiters, busboys, dishwashers and other people are required. Form a team when you really need a concerted effort.

Will the project create a common purpose?  Sometimes forming a team is useful when you want to build a sense of teamwork in your department.  If the project will pull people together and give them a common goal to shoot for, a team can strengthen bonds and have a positive effect long after the task is completed.

Can you depend on the team members to support each other?  If the team consists of members who don’t get along or respect the others’ contributions, the work will suffer.  Promote team-building exercises and activities to enhance the group’s dynamics.  Provide opportunities for each team member to showcase their contribution.

Finally, does the project truly require a team to accomplish the goal?  If a project can be completed successfully by one person, why waste the skills and talents of otherwise busy workers?  Use teams wisely for best productivity.

Don’t underestimate the value of creating teamwork opportunities outside the normal business arena.  Company ball teams, choirs, volunteer projects and outings allow people to get to know each other on a different level, which can translate into better cooperation in the work place.


Mackay’s Moral:  Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success. 

Step out of your comfort zone

A few weeks ago daredevil Nik Wallenda walked – untethered – atop Orlando’s 400-foot high Ferris wheel – as it was spinning.  This is the same guy who traversed a tightrope stretched across the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and between two Chicago skyscrapers.

In an interview he said he wants to be an inspiration for others.  People don’t need to risk their lives, he clarified, but they should push themselves to do better and be greater.

“I think people have become very complacent these days,” he said.  “I’ve always been a strong believer in pushing myself in everything I can do …  I hope that what I do inspires people to step out of their comfort zone and do greater things.”

One of the reasons we admire people who take risks is that most of us are scared stiff at the prospect of taking risks ourselves.  “I could never do something like that,” we say.  The “something” we could never do might be anything from starting a new career to learning how to make a piecrust.  It doesn’t matter.  Sometimes it seems that the only people who can take risks successfully are the people who have nothing to lose.


Fortunately, most of us will never have to worry about taking monumental risks.  Of course, we use that to downplay the importance of the risks we do face.  If it’s not something that involves real, measurable danger – skydiving, for example – it’s clearly not important as far as risks go.  What you really mean is that you think the fear you feel about your “small” risk is misplaced – an overreaction.

The same fear that keeps you from taking a tangible risk like skydiving can also keep you from seeking a promotion you want.  It keeps you from going back to school to get your master’s degree, or taking a vacation without checking messages every 45 minutes.

You don’t call it fear, of course, but that’s what it is.  Chances are you probably use all sorts of tools to keep it fresh and strong:  “I don’t have the time.”  “It’s not what I really want to do.”  “I have too many responsibilities.”  Amazing how the human brain can be so effective at using circular reasoning and rationalization as a way to avoid taking action.

In short, playing it safe isn’t the way to get ahead.  You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes – but not so far that you fall off.  Intelligent risk taking involves these steps:

  • Know your motivations.  What do you really want to achieve?  Why?  Don’t take major chances on something you’re not enthusiastic about.  You’ll work harder on goals that are important to you.  Failure at something trivial may make you reluctant to try something really important to you.
  • Define success at the start.  Figure out what you want to achieve in specific, measurable terms.  You don’t have to account for every variable, but you should have a solid idea of the results you’re looking for.
  • Look at the best and worst outcomes.  To evaluate risks and rewards, try to determine what the worst-case scenario would look like, whether the payoff is worth that risk, and how you could prevent it from happening.  Consider the best-case scenario as well:  How will you recognize success?  What will you do next?  This helps you prepare for contingencies.
  • Consider your timetable.  Do you have to take this risk right now?  How quickly do you need results?  Don’t rush if you don’t have to.  Breaking your plan down into individual segments can help you minimize risks and learn what’s needed to succeed.
  • Focus on benefits, not dangers.  Keep the hazards in mind, but don’t let them overwhelm you.  Think about the potential outcome, and you’ll be able to stay the course even when the road gets rocky.
  • Get started.  You can make all the plans you want, but ultimately you have to take the leap.  Don’t turn preparation into a full-time activity.  Determine what you need to begin, and then do it.  You’ll feel more energized when you’re in the midst of the struggle than when you’re just getting ready.
  • Do what matters to you.  Taking a risk to please or impress someone else will not produce the gratification or results that you had hoped for.  What is important to Nik Wallenda is most likely not on your to-do list.


Mackay’s Moral:  No risk, no success.  Know risk, know success.

Give your self-confidence the boost you need

A soldier in a rag-tag third-world revolutionary army lost his rifle, so he went to his group’s leader for a replacement.

“What am I going to do?” asked the soldier.  “We are going to have a big battle tomorrow and I don’t have a rifle.”

“Don’t worry,” said his leader.  “The other side doesn’t have very good weapons either and they are so brain-washed they believe anything they hear. Just pretend you are pointing a rifle at them and say, “Bang!  Bang!  It will have the same effect as if you fired a real rifle at them.

“O.K.,” said the soldier skeptically, hitching up his threadbare uniform, “but I lost my bayonet too.”

“Do the same thing,” said his leader, “when the hand-to-hand combat begins, just point your fingers like this and say, ‘Stab!  Stab!  Stab!’  You’ll see it has the same effect as using a bayonet.”

The soldier was even more skeptical of this advice but there wasn’t anything he could do about it.  As the sun came up, the enemy came charging over the hill right at him and he held out his imaginary rifle, saying loudly, “Bang!  Bang!  Bang!”  To his amazement one of them dropped, then another, and then another.  “Bang!  Bang!  Bang!” he shouted with increasing confidence.

But suddenly he saw a particularly fierce, huge enemy soldier coming right at him. “Bang!  Bang!  Bang!” he shouted, but the huge enemy soldier kept coming right at him until he was just a few feet away.

“Stab!  Stab!  Stab!” said the frightened soldier, waving his fingers right at his adversary.”

But nothing worked.  The enemy soldier rolled right over him, kicking him in the stomach and stepping on his face.  As he went by, the enemy soldier grunted, “TANK!   TANK!  TANK!”

SelfConfidenceSelf-confidence alone won’t help you succeed, but it’s hard to get started or push through the inevitable obstacles without believing in yourself first.  Do you struggle with self-confidence?  Almost everyone does at some point.

And while you won’t likely come up against any real tanks, the obstacles can set you back if you let them.  Before that happens, you need to do a few things.

  • Review your accomplishments.  You’ve already achieved some successes in your life, right?  List them, on paper if necessary, and identify the skills and strengths you’ve used to succeed.  Consult your list whenever you feel doubt coming on.
  • Seek new knowledge.  If you’re lacking any of the skills you need to achieve your goals, focus on learning them.  The process will remind you that you’re capable of growth, and mastering the skills will give you a mental boost.
  • Face your fears.  Too often we sabotage our self-confidence by hiding from what frightens us.  Identify and examine your fears so you can take action against potential setbacks.  You are more powerful than what you’re trying to avoid.
  • Adjust your thought patterns.  Negative thinking never yields positive results. Reboot immediately if you catch yourself doing any of these:  all-or-nothing thoughts (“If I don’t get this job, I’ll be a total failure”), seeing only the downside (“I finished the project, but what if people see how tough it was for me?”), jumping to conclusions (“Bob didn’t reply to my email – he dislikes me”), or putting yourself down.  Look for the positives in every situation.  You can find them if you try.
  • Pay attention to your appearance.  You don’t have to buy a lot of expensive clothes, but devoting some time to your wardrobe and overall grooming can make you feel better about how you present yourself.  A neat, professional look inspires confidence from others, and helps you put your best foot forward.
  • Know what you want.  Specific goals inspire your best efforts.  You’ll feel more confident and capable with a clear idea of what you want to achieve in your life and career – not someone else’s idea of what’s important.

My friend, Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote one of my all-time favorite books, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” offered this advice:  “Believe in yourself.  Have faith in your abilities!  Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers, you cannot be successful or happy.”


Mackay’s Moral:  You can’t buy confidence, but you can sell it!