When I was six my dad got down on our living room floor and placed a twelve-inch-wide string circle in the middle of the room. He filled the circle with a slew of shiny new marbles, then patiently showed me how to curl my index finger into the crook of my thumb and place the “shooter” marble in the pocket that resulted. “The key to winning at marbles,” Dad instructed, “is rolling your shooter at the right speed.”
My dad is a card shark. A math whiz, he can calculate percentages and possibilities faster than you can arrange the cards in your hand. Fiercely competitive, he loves a good challenge and sat me down at the age of nine to teach me everything he knew about how to play ten-card gin and win. “You have to immediately discard cards that don’t serve your hand,” he advised. By the time I was ten, the scoreboard was frequently even. Although not a math whiz, it turns out I’m very good at gin, too.
When I was eleven, Dad took over as head coach of my softball team. Roaring from the sidelines, “Keep your eyes on the ball!” he taught me how to field a grounder with two hands, throw from second to home before the batter could run from third, and wait for the sweet pitch. I became the team’s leading home-run hitter.
As I grew older, Dad stopped teaching me how to play games and began sharing philosophies for how to win at the game of life. When I was thirteen and hospitalized with a life-threatening illness that turned me into the equivalent of a full-body burn victim, the doctor suggested transferring me to a burn victim bed. The problem: all the hospital’s burn beds were full and it was Labor Day weekend—no deliveries until the next week. My father left the room and returned in an hour; the bed would be delivered the next day. “If you’re persistent,” he said, “you can make anything happen.”
In college and graduate school I overwhelmed myself with advanced curriculums that made me panic, stress, and call home on the verge of dropping classes. Never one to give in to fear, Dad always advised, “Action puts fear to flight.” He suggested I identify how to put myself in motion in order to shift out of my frightened paralysis.
Out in the workforce I cycled through jobs without committing to a career. For a period of time while I worked in the Avon building on 57th Street and Dad worked in the Revlon building on Fifth Avenue, we met for lunch every Wednesday at Wolf’s, our favorite diner. Over an enormous turkey-on-rye sandwich, I complained I didn’t know how to align my passions with earning a significant paycheck. Slowly and meaningfully, Dad responded, “Don’t worry about the money. Do what you love; money will find you.”
The emotional aftereffects of that hospital stay sidetracked me for a long time. I thought I couldn’t win at building a life because my mind was in such a depressed fog. Many years and much persistent work later, I finally busted out of trauma’s impact. Wholly healed, I decided to take Dad’s advice about money. I stopped worrying about the past and the future and focused on what I love in the present: inspiring people to overcome life’s biggest adversities. Suddenly, all of Dad’s advice over the years formed a strategy for how to execute an enormous personal transformation. I launched a coaching and speaking career based on my passion for transforming after trauma. In order to create a successful business, I rolled out the development of my platform at just the right speed. I immediately let go of opportunities that didn’t serve my end goal while keeping my mind focused on what I wanted to achieve. Persistence became the foundation of my entire strategy, and every time I felt afraid I stayed in motion until I reached success.
The end result? I’ve helped people from around the world recover from trauma. I travel nationally to speak at conferences about what it takes to rebuild a life interrupted by tragedy. Plus, I published a book that’s garnered multiple award nominations. All those years I thought we were just playing games or handling a crisis, Dad was actually teaching me how to win at the game of creating who I most want to be. That’s the most important skill a dad can teach.