Father knows best

17 steps to a happy life. But really, 4. OK, maybe 5. Or else, maybe just open and read? Also: 7 other things worth your time!

I called my dad last night.

“Hey Dad,” I said. “I need a favor.”

Well, not really a favor, exactly, but I want to run something by you. Remember a few years back you emailed me, and I wrote that article about “17 bits of advice from my dad?” Would you mind if I used it for the newsletter?

“Seventeen?” my dad said. “No, there were four. ‘Four steps to a happy life.’ The 17 was your idea.”

“Are you sure?” I quickly pulled up the article from seven years ago as he talked.

“Yes,” he continued. “There were four.”

He rattled them off. (This is me paraphrasing; I didn’t take notes but I’m pretty sure I got it right):

  1. Get out of bed in the morning. Recognize that everyone makes mistakes, and everyone gets a new chance at making things right. It’s a new day; you don’t have to repeat what you did yesterday.

  2. Spend as much time as you can with the people you love. But also, love everyone. Show respect, even to those who make it difficult. In the words of Thomas Merton, "Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone—we find it with another."

  3. When you go to work, give it your best shot. But also, go home at the end of your shift. You do not live to work; you work to support yourself and those you love.

  4. When you go home, go to bed. Get the rest you need. You only function well when your body is working, and your body needs sleep. Also, clean out your emotional briefcase. Give yourself a break.

Then, he acknowledged, there was, in fact, a fifth item, which was simply:

5. Repeat steps 1 through 4 as often as possible.

The backstory here is that on April 17, 2014, my dad sent me an email with the subject line, “YOUR COLUMN.”

This was just after my Inc.com column really started to take off, and I was pouring myself into it. As my dad wrote at the time: “I offer the following for your use, adaptation, or rejection. Four steps to a happy life.”

He was correct in remembering that, since this was what we might call in retrospect “the Age of the Listicle,” my informed reaction was that we couldn’t just do four.

We needed a bigger number, preferably a prime number.

“Challenge accepted,” I wrote in reply the next day, and worked with him to hit 17.

I shall truncate, but here’s what the resulting column looked like, edited mildly because sometimes I cringe today at how I phrased things in my (slightly) younger days.

If you’d like to read the longer descriptions, they’re still up at Inc.com.

  1. Carpe diem.

  2. Spend as much time as you can with the people you love.

  3. At the same time, love the ones you're with.

  4. Work hard.

  5. At the end of the day, go home.

  6. Later, go to bed.

  7. Get some exercise.

  8. Have a little faith.

  9. Learn another language.

  10. Read every day.

  11. Keep your wardrobe simple.

  12. Shine your shoes.

  13. Tell the people you love that you love them.

  14. Don't worry.

  15. Be kind to animals.

  16. Find good people to work with.

  17. Repeat as needed.

I’m sharing this today for three reasons.

The first is that this Sunday is Father’s Day, and I’ve had a note in my idea file for a while suggesting that I might want to share this story in June.

The second is that behind the scenes, I’ve been trying to improve the structure of the Understandably daily newsletter. For now, at least, it goes like this:

  • Monday: Money and Careers

  • Tuesday: Tech or Life Tips

  • Wednesday: Wellness

  • Thursday: Big Thoughts

  • Friday: Features (and all those “forgotten people” I enjoy finding and writing about)

Today is Tuesday, and if I’m going to write about life tips, I can’t think of a better source.

Final reason: I recognize how much of a gift it is to have received this from my dad, and read it, and learned from it, and written about it—not once, but now twice.

By the suffix at the end of my name, Bill Murphy Jr., you may deduce that I’m named after my dad, who was in turn named after his dad—my grandfather—who died almost three years before I was born.

That’s not a simple thing. But I love my dad, and if you ever have the chance to meet him, I guarantee you’ll have a fun conversation. Let me quote again from my article seven years ago:

My dad [is] … a lawyer who built his own firm, and who has worked for himself since the 1970s. He and my mom raised five kids, and they're still going strong.

They're devoted to their grandchildren, and moreover, my dad is a man who enjoys both his work and the rest of his life.

In fact, as I read his email, it occurred to me that he's achieved many of the things that younger people tell me are among their goals in life. (Of course, I've been too close to realize it.)

Whether I format this as 4 steps to a happy life or 17, it’s hard-won wisdom. In the comments, I’d love to hear your reaction, or the advice you got from your parents that you remember, or the key advice you’d give your own kids.

With that, however, it’s (once again) well after midnight as I finish this newsletter. So, let me do my dad the honor of wrapping this up and following his “go to bed” advice. Tomorrow’s yet another day.

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Understandably Live

My friends, we are cooking with gas (and learning as we go). Yesterday’s Understandably Live interview with Peter Zheutlin was fantastic, if I do say so myself. Here’s the video:

Do me a favor: If you watch the video, can you subscribe to the YouTube channel? I need a few more subscribers to brand it officially as Understandably’s. Also, I’ll be in touch later today with the members who won the free ebook versions of Zheutlin’s book, Spin: a Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story.


7 other things worth your time

  • What you should know about Voilà, the latest viral selfie app. Short version: they say they delete your data, but there is zero way to know for sure. (Wired)

  • Kind of following up on what we wrote about yesterday: “Starting [yesterday] morning, Goldman is requiring almost all employees to report to their desks. Meanwhile, Citigroup won’t recall more of its staff until July—even then, allowing for hybrid schedules.” (Bloomberg)

  • The parents of a former US Marine who once worked on the security detail at Camp David and who is now serving nine years in prison in Russia “for endangering the ‘life and health’ of Russian police officers in an altercation after a night of drinking” asked President Biden for help. (CNN)

  • New York City says it will throw a ticker-tape parade on July 7 for the city's healthcare heroes and essential workers. This would be the first such parade since before the pandemic. (WCBS 880)

  • Reality Winner, 29, a former government contractor who was given the longest federal prison sentence imposed for leaks to the news media has been released from prison to home confinement. (AP)

  • Our long national nightmare—at least the part in which there was apparently a ketchup shortage—is over, says the president of Kraft Heinz. (Time)

  • Look, I’m almost certainly going to live in the USA for the rest of my life, but I am intrigued by this study that suggests that of the five “most livable cities in the world,” two are in New Zealand, two are in Japan, and one is in Australia. (Bloomberg)

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