Life Advice From my Dad That I Live By To This Day

My dad is the type of father who wanted to be remembered for his wisdom and sage advice. When I was a child, he was always coining memorable phrases like: All I can give you in this life is morals, manners, and education; the rest is up to you, and you’ll always be alright if you stay in the light. I’ve loved these beautiful (if slightly quirky) slogans he passed down to me, and now that I am a mom, I’m loaning them to my kids, too.

But despite all his insightful catchphrases, the thing that will always be most memorable to me is actually a metaphor. It was probably the best life advice someone like me could receive, and I live by it to this day.

To set the scene: I had just been accepted to a doctoral program in Memphis, Tennessee, where I had grown up and there my parents still lived. I had moved away for undergrad and had spent all those years in school, living on my own. When I was accepted to my graduate program, my parents graciously offered to let me live with them while I attended school. This was a giant blessing, as my stipend would not be sufficient to cover a lease and all my other expenses.

My move back home and the subsequent adjustments to the high demands of graduate school took a toll on my relationship with my then-fiancé, who was my high school sweetheart and with whom I had been in a relationship for over seven years. Sadly, with just a few weeks to go before our wedding date, I called it all off. I knew it was the right decision, but like most “right” decisions, it didn’t feel great.

So, there I was at twenty-two years old with a college degree that required almost a decade more schooling to be worth a damn (thank you, Psychology), a broken engagement, and living at home with my parents. I tried to focus on the positives: I’m pursuing the career of my dreams, I am free to find a relationship that will be the right fit for me, I am privileged to have my parents’ support during this time. Yet, it was hard not to feel like a little bird who had failed to launch from the nest.

It didn’t help that I was watching my friends begin their careers, get married, and start growing their families while I was still stuck in six to seven more years of high-intensity schooling before I could really think about those things.

One night, while sitting at the dinner table with my parents and feeling particularly despondent, my dad said, “little buddy,” (his name for me since I was an infant), “what’s got you looking so sad?”

I explained how behind the curve I was feeling, how badly I was grappling with the feeling that the world was moving on without me.

And that’s when he delivered the most memorable piece of advice he’s ever given me.

He said:

Amber, you are a warrior with a slingshot. You’ve put your rock in the tubing. That’s your education—your future prospects. Right now, you’re slowly pulling that tubing backward to take aim at where you want to go. As you know, you have to pull it back really far if you want it to go a long distance. So, while you’re pulling back, winding up for your big launch, everyone you know is moving forward at a normal pace. It seems like they’re moving fast, but that’s only because you are drawing backward while they’re heading forward.

But one day, when the time is right, you are going to launch that stone. And you watch! That stone will sail past everyone you know—much further than any of them could ever dream to go. That will be your reward, the great payoff for all the time you were drawing your stone back to make sure it could go the distance.

So, don’t compare yourself to other people who seem to be achieving more than you. They are on their own path to greatness: one that doesn’t require as much time and training as yours. You’ll catch up, little buddy. Just keep pulling that stone back. Keep your sights on where you want it to go. And have patience.

I’ve never forgotten those words.

He was right. I did eventually finish my Ph.D., land a great job, start an incredible career. I got married, had two children. Moved to a neighborhood where we are all thriving. Suddenly, I too had all the things I had coveted in my friends while I was pulling that stone backward in my slingshot.

As the years have gone by, I’ve had more slingshot moments. There have been many times in my life when I had to slow down, draw back, sit tight. I had to wait for obstacles to get out of my way, for the right people to get on board, for my bank account to stretch itself. In those times, I’ve always remembered what my father told me all those years ago.

I no longer feel discouraged or impatient during those times. I just do what my wise, loving father said:

Just keep pulling that stone back.

Keep your sights on where you want to go.

And have patience.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

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