Work & Purpose

My Dad’s Career Tip That I Live By Every Day

So much of my success is due to his stirring words

The eighth anniversary of my dad’s passing was a few weeks ago. He pops into my mind almost every day, and with Father’s Day approaching, I wanted to share my favorite career advice he gave me. (Previously, I’ve written for Next Avenue about his five money lessons that have guided me for decades.)

The most important tip about work that dad shared, which I follow daily, is to believe in myself and to take charge of my career. “No one else is going to do it for you,” he liked to say.

And the curious part is that this advice not only got me my first job, but a job at his favorite magazine.

You took a risk on a kid from Pittsburgh with a photo album full of clips and a dream.

When I was growing up, my dad loved Forbes. He read it before he went to bed and on weekends. At that time, I fancied becoming a journalist and even before I left for college, I swore to myself that I’d land a job at Forbes one day.

Applying to Work at Dad’s Favorite Magazine

After graduating from Duke and amassing an eclectic portfolio of clips — writing about school board meetings for The Pittsburgh Press, small businesses for The Pittsburgh Business Times, marketing for Advertising Age and entertainment for Pittsburgh magazine — I screwed up the courage and applied to Forbes in 1985.

I mailed my manila envelope to New York and followed up with a call to the editor in charge of hiring reporter/researchers, Jean Briggs, saying I’d be in New York the next week and asking if I could stop by for a meeting. Amazingly, she said yes.

In truth, I had no plans to be in New York, nor did I have money to pay for a plane ticket. But this twentysomething had the courage and fearlessness that Dad had instilled.

In shock, I called him at his engineering and consulting business office and told him my news. In a nanosecond, he bubbled: “You’re going! I’ll pay for the ticket and your hotel room.”

My Big Job Offer

During the interview, when Jean asked me why I wanted to work at Forbes, I blurted out that it was my dad’s favorite publication. (I blush even writing that today.) Well, Jean didn’t have a job for me that day. But six months later, she called and offered me one.

Jean just died at 72 on May 26, after a battle with cancer. I was grateful to have been in New York the week before that and to have had the opportunity to thank her. “You changed my life,” I told Jean. “You took a risk on a kid from Pittsburgh with a photo album full of clips and a dream.” We both cried, and we smiled, as we wiped the tears way.

Looking back on the start of my career, I dreamed big and took a risk. So did my Dad when he dropped me off in New York City and waved goodbye, then drove back to Pittsburgh, alone.

Dad’s Can-Do Philosophy

I’ve continued to adopt dad’s can-do philosophy throughout my career and he has often been my biggest supporter. Whenever I asked his counsel about a goal I had, he would always ask, “How can you?” even when others were telling me I couldn’t. He never once doubted that I could.

And then he and I would break the goal down into steps for making it happen. Dad always said “you have to dream” to get somewhere. And sometimes that meant dreaming of a better job and work life. One time, when I wasn’t loving my job, he advised me to quit. Three days later, I did.

I never looked back and am forever grateful for dad pushing me to follow my dream. Because of that, I started my own business as a freelance writer, with my ex-employer as one of my first clients. Since then, I’ve also become an author of numerous books, public speaker, and an authority on jobs for people over 50.

Thanks, Dad.

Kerry Hannon
By Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon is the author of Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home. She has covered personal finance, retirement and careers for The New York Times, Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among others. She is the author of more than a dozen books including Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life, Money Confidence: Really Smart Financial Moves for Newly Single Women and What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. Her website is kerryhannon.com. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.

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