Fathers, Daughters, and Career Advice


My oldest daughter, Mara, is in junior high this year, and I am still reeling from the fact that she is growing up so fast.  This has further fanned the flames of what has become a “Year of Reflection” for me (sounds more aspirational than “mid-life crisis”), as I have turned 40, changed careers, and taken many a trip down memory lane.  I have beseeched her consistently in her young life to “not be in a hurry to grow up” because frankly there is no better job than being a kid.  But as she starts to enter this world of young adulthood, her thoughts and our conversations are inevitably turning more toward her rapidly approaching future. As such, for the first time we had an actual conversation of…

So what do you want to do when you grow up?” 

First, she sarcastically retorted, “I don’t know, Dad… what do YOU want to do when YOU grow up?”  Valid point, but she was stalling.  As her mind wrapped around my question, I could see the wheels turning and the emotions conflicting.  Part of her seemed to be clinging tightly to her childhood, another feeling that fear of becoming a grown up, and yet another sparkling with the excitement of adventures ahead.  Finally, with a look of peace she said, “Dad… I am still only 12 and I like waaaay too many things to even begin to decide what I want to do when I grow up.  What I do know though, is that whatever I choose will be something that I love to do, that I’m good at, and that helps people.  And with those simple words, she had concisely and insightfully given a better answer than I could have imagined. 

As I have coached and managed people, businesses, and projects over the years, it is a simple, consistent, and amazing truth that these three elements are core to achieving success and fulfillment.  Whether it is a career path, a creative idea, or a new project, we often neglect one or more of these elements in making choices and decisions: 

  • Talent: A skill or core competency that is a step above “competition”
  • Passion: An inherent love or drive that radiates from within
  • Benefit:  Making a difference for someone(s), by providing a product, service, or idea that they truly need or want.

This isn’t rocket science in concept, but is surprisingly uncommon in practice.

As individuals and teams walk through my door each day, looking for breakthrough concepts, disruptive ideas, and to growing new business, the ones that inevitably go on to be successful can say YES to the following questions: “Are we good at this?”, “Am I emotionally invested?”, and “Does it make a difference?”

Of course, by no means am I saying that “making money” is not important (I certainly don’t intend on my daughter living in my basement forever!). But the money should be an output that arises naturally from infusing innovation with these three factors.  In a world that too often encourages action before reflection, let’s take some advice from the world’s 12 year olds and stop to run our ideas and decisions through these filters.  It could make a world of difference.

Note: I originally published this blog at http://www.upstream360.com.


  1. There’s a correlation to this thinking in some of the happiness research. If you do something that aligns to your interests (“I like it”)… you’re at a “level 1” happiness. If it aligns to your interests and skills (“I’m good at it”), it’s a level 2 happy. And if it aligns to your interests and your skills AND your values, that’s the level 3 happiness (life satisfaction) – the kind of happiness we all hope to have. Mara’s values must include helping others as a critical component. Good job!


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