“How am I going to find a job? Where should I live? What if I can’t afford car insurance? How does anyone ever find the money to buy a house? What happens if I get married and have kids? And, oh God, what about medical insurance? I haven’t even begun to think about that! What am I going to do?”
“You’ll figure it out.”
That’s it? That’s the advice I get after what had to be a ten-minute gabble session from me over the phone with my dad (who was almost certainly flipping channels between the Formula One race highlights and the Barrett-Jackson car auction). Just before my graduation from college, this was his simple reply? But I wasn’t surprised. Not at all. This was and is his go-to response, and I’d heard it hundreds of times before.
I can see myself back in elementary school, out in the garage with my mechanical-engineer, industrial-contractor, grease-monkey father (whom I know I’m nothing like). He was spending his Saturday doing what he loves—tinkering, cursing, and bleeding all over his 1969 Shelby GT 500. He’s had this car since 1970 when he convinced a used-car lot owner to hold it for him until he got that job at US Steel. His college paper route didn’t yield enough for the down payment. He knows that car inside and out, especially after having to rebuild it when my mom accidentally flooded it by driving through a low water crossing after a tropical storm.
I was having a problem with my fourth-grade math teacher and had just finished explaining this (over garbled speech and ratcheting noises) to his feet, the only part of him not under the car. “She’s always singling me out, but it’s not just me. It’s the entire table! They make jokes, and I can’t help but laugh. Now I’m the only one with detention! I’m the victim here. What am I going to do?” The teacher wouldn’t even let me change my seat (not that I really wanted her to).
“You’ll figure it out.”
My ten-year-old brain couldn’t help but think, “This guy doesn’t understand that I have real problems. School is hard. Life is hard. I’ve got so much to figure out, but he doesn’t know what it’s like. He’s an adult. He’s got everything under control. Everything is easy for him.” It wasn’t until much later in my life that I realized this wasn’t true.
In 2006 I was contemplating going full time with our design company, Paravel, with two of my friends. My father had recently retired after spending thirty-five-plus years working at an industrial contracting company, which he started with two business partners in the 1970s (okay, so maybe we’re somewhat alike), working with companies like Shell and Dow. It was high-stakes work, and operating a small company like his that dealt with mega-corporations took gumption. When I reached out to him for business advice, his reply was the same. “You’ll figure it out.”
Occasionally, I catch him in a rare, contemplative mood and take advantage of that to pry out stories about life at the company. I truly thought things at his office were steady and predictable. I had no idea people got injured out in the field and that taking care of employees was the biggest part of his job. I hadn’t known that big companies tend to push smaller companies around, delaying payment and chiseling estimates as much as they can. And I certainly had never even dreamt that he once had to put his beloved Shelby up as loan collateral to help pay his employees.
I realize now what my dad is best at: figuring it out. He’s resourceful. He’s a connector of dots. You can have all the pearls of wisdom, talent, and potential in the world, but if you can’t string those qualities together they’ll never be put to good use.
It turns out that “You’ll figure it out” was the best advice I’ve ever been given. It was a conditioner of sorts. It trained me to organize, dissect, and solve. It taught me how to head toward and be prepared for point B even when I don’t yet see that it exists. It challenges me to be brave.
Gosh. Maybe I’m more like my dad than I realize.
At least, I hope like hell I am.