Parental advice you ignored

Jan 17, 2021

Reconsider some of this advice, and you may find some insight to guide you through our current world of disruption and stress.

Think back to your childhood, when things were simple, and stress was left to the grown-ups. The wisdom imparted on us was from stressed-out parents sharing their life lessons – typically nothing we needed in the moment or in the foreseeable future, but rather something that our parents were hoping would “sink in” for later retrieval.

Well, that time is now, especially if you’re in a leadership position.

A few gems were shared with me growing up, and I’m pretty sure I had no idea what they meant at the time. My dad used to say, “life isn’t fair” – typically in response to my “that’s not fair” proclamation. Surely you can relate and even visualize a petulant teenager perfecting her eye roll. Fast forward a few (30) years, and I can apply this wisdom in my grown-up life. Leadership is filled with opportunities to prove that life isn’t fair – you put in countless hours because of your drive and passion, but the effort goes unnoticed. Or better yet, you put in countless hours behind the scenes and then give credit for the final product to a team member who pushed it across the finish line. Leadership provides this opportunity to share the spotlight or give it to someone else entirely. Fair? Probably. Someone likely did the same for you along your career path. Be sure to look at the big picture when considering fairness.

Let’s try another one. Ever heard, “don’t burn the candle at both ends?” Of course, you have. And when you were 12, it made little sense – since what your parents really meant was, “you need to get some sleep.” However, in their stressed-out world, it clearly meant a whole lot more. Today we’re beginning to understand the negative impact of trying to do too much at once – work and family life have merged for most of us, and as those lines blurred, separating all the related issues has become complicated. The lesson for us today: be aware of how much you’re trying to do at once, slow down, focus on the priorities, and get some sleep.

How about “stop and smell the roses?” If your parent said this to you in your tween years, I can imagine your irritation. In one ear and right out the other. You were clearly too engaged in video games or television to be bothered with a gardening analogy. Our parents were simply trying to remind us to slow down and be grateful for the blessings in our lives. Frustrated, no doubt, that we didn’t find the same joy in a home-cooked meal or an afternoon bike ride through the park that they did. However, pausing to appreciate the things that bring beauty to our lives can provide a sense of calm and balance to the negativity in the world. The AEC industry is filled with creativity and innovative solutions – stopping, occasionally, to appreciate their design can give us a sense of purpose in this crazy world.

Finally, “honesty is the best policy.” Growing up, you learned honesty was critical because a violation of this virtue was likely the reason you were grounded. Learning the importance of honesty as a child – even if we test these boundaries fiercely, leads to developing integrity as an adult. I bet if we did a show of hands, most of you would say integrity is on your list of company values (if it’s not, it should be). Integrity is vital to the long-term success of any company. Unlike in childhood, an ethics violation could end in something much worse than being grounded. Conversely, a company that leads with integrity has an opportunity to learn from mistakes and influence future generations of leaders.

At the time, the wisdom from your parents seemed meaningless; but reconsider some of the advice, and you may find some insight to guide you through our current world of disruption and stress. You can take comfort in knowing that wearing sweat pants on a Zoom call equates to dressing for success – at least for now.

Tammi Nagucki, CPSM, is principal of marketing and client experience at Environmental Design Group. Contact her at

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