I don’t have what you would call a normal father.
Where everyone else’s parent’s I knew growing up went to college, my dad dropped out during his freshman year. Where everyone else’s parents had a job as a lawyer or a doctor or a teacher, ie, something “respectable,” my dad was an international arms dealer and weapon’s parts manufacturer, among a ton of other things…
He’s also a self taught martial arts expert, has had videos he’s made stolen by Quentin Tarantino for movies, been parodied on Wayne’s World and the Late Show, was sent cease and desist letters from Saturday Night Live and UnderArmor, and he’s probably taught more people how to shoot a firearm than any man in history.
We butted heads a ton growing up but he cares more about his family than any man I know and his actions have always proven it. He’s been a wonderful father and a man worth emulating in many ways.
Since it’s Father’s Day, here are some lessons on life and business I’ve learned (and tried to practice) from him over the years:
1. Get started now before you’re an expert. My father is one of the most respected and well known people in the firearms industry, but he didn’t wait until he was “the best” to start producing VHS tapes on shooting back in the day. He became an “expert” by doing all the things supposedly reserved for the experts.
2. Make a lot of stuff. The sheer volume of stuff he puts out is incredible. If I had to use one word to describe him, “maker” might be it. I think one of the biggest parts of his success has been he’s ability to think up products and launch them within 30 days. I’ve tried increasingly to do that in my own life, and every time I follow it, things work out better than I expect.
3. Figure it out as you go. When my dad was starting to get some traction on his early firearms videos, people started calling in to order the parts he used in the videos. He didn’t have them, but of course he took their order and then went out and found the parts to send them. That started what later became a $30 million dollar per year business.
4. Neither permission nor forgiveness. My dad listens to some political talk shows and reads some books here on there but I would never describe him as overtly political. He’s always been too busy running a business. That said, in his actions, he’s one of the most libertarian people I know. He’s got this wonderful way of getting whatever he wants from people by simply ignoring many of the rules we all think we need to follow and never apologizing for it when people challenge him.
5. If you can make a product and sell it, you’ll never be out of work. I’ve watched him sell products ranging from medical devices to websites and video production to gun parts, Mr. Bill dolls, software and more. Some have failed, others have succeeded spectacularly, but I know he’ll never worry about money because he’s always got one more thing to create and sell. I was able to avoid so much stress and worry when starting my career because he showed me in simple terms what it was really all about: make something people want and convince them to give you money for it.
6. Your formal credential is meaningless. Though he wanted me to finish college, he’s living proof you don’t need a degree to become an expert in your field and make a killing doing it.
7. Protect your thoughts as much as you would your body. He always told me growing up that I have limited space with which I can occupy my mind. Dumb people think about other people. Average people think about things, places, etc. Great people think about ideas and putting them into practice. It makes sense, but it’s far easier said than done. Try it.
8. Train your thoughts as much as you would your body. I truly don’t know anybody who has more control over his mind than him. He doesn’t seem capable of holding a grudge or of letting anyone or anything bother him much longer than a few minutes. You’d think this was something he was born with until you learn from my mom what a hot-head he used to be. As Ayn Rand wrote, “your subconscious is like a computer—more complex a computer than men can build—and its main function is the integration of your ideas. Who programs it? Your conscious mind.”
9. Make time for deliberate, silent, slow thinking. Every Sunday for as long as I can remember, my dad has gone to his offices at night just to be alone and think for a few hours. He does nothing else but think. No music, no books, no phone calls, no podcasts. He makes a point to just sit in silence.
10. Happiness through the achievement of values. I wondered growing up why my dad didn’t seem to “go out with the guys” much like many of my other friends’ dads did. He never did poker nights, didn’t drink or smoke cigars, yet he was happier than all of them, truly. He told me it’s because he writes down exactly what he wants and focuses his time and energy on that, while most other people spend their free time in mindless activities that are totally disconnected from deliberately chosen values. This was a precursor to a deeper lesson I would learn through Rand in her essay Philosophy: Who Needs It.
11. 80% and “done” is better than 100% and unfinished. Most people take their goals to the grave because they never feel like they’re good enough. My dad was sort of the opposite. He’s always had the mindset “damned if I’m going to let some arbitrary standard of perfection keep me from doing this.” And what has been fun to watch over the years is just how many things he did turned out to be great after all. There’s always room for improvement, but just get things finished and move on to the next one.
I could continue writing, I’m sure, but I’ll stop here and leave room for a followup next year, when by I’m sure I’ll have learned a few more lessons.