From a Dad to his Daughter

Her first summer at the lake....Dad and daughter 17+ years ago

I admit it. The thought of my oldest daughter graduating high school in a few weeks has me thinking hard about life...hers and mine. And how fast the years go. And all the stuff I want her to know.

I decided to write her a letter as a sort of early graduation gift. I gave it to her the other day, and with her permission, I am sharing it with you.



To my daughter Ali (in your final weeks of high school),

Throughout time, people of a certain age and maturity experience moments where they simply cannot resist the temptation to look a younger person in the eye and begin a narrative that starts with, “When I was your age…” Although I have been steadfast in my refusal to be that guy (well mostly), I find myself needing to make an exception. So here it is:

When I was your age, I was encouraged to seek a life that was stable and secure. Most of my friends were too. This advice was well intended, but it speaks to a world that in some ways had not yet grasped just how quickly the “information age” and the “digital revolution” would turn almost everything on its head. So many things are so different today that it makes me laugh. Every sector you can possibly imagine has been disrupted in the twenty-eight years since I graduated high school. So much for stable and secure!

We did not have Snapchat or Instagram. There was no such thing as Twitter. No iTunes. Not even smart phones. We did, however, have a canary yellow rotary phone mounted to the wall in the kitchen (with a coiled cord that you could stretch maybe six or seven feet). No one had a computer at home. Unless you count the Atari game console. Everyone had Atari. In fact, my high school had certain classrooms filled with  typewriters so we could learn to type. They were kind of cool actually. The internet didn’t show up in any meaningful way until I was in my twenties (I remember a student showing it to me for the first time in the computer lab). Now its hard to imagine life without wifi.

Despite all this, the truth is that when I graduated high school many people believed that a person could train for one thing, land a job with one company, and retire from that place thirty-five years later with a good pension and benefits. It could be a mill, a grocery store, a factory, or a professional firm – like a law office, an engineering outfit, or an architecture company. As it turns out, the notion of having one “career” stay consistent over the course of one’s life is life is less and less realistic. I mean anything is possible. You might be surgeon for the next forty years. Or maybe there won’t be a need for surgeons anymore because there will be robots and lasers and software programs that will be more exacting and able. The world will keep changing, and quickly.

You probably know that fatherly advice, traditionally, exhorts caution. It is prudent and practical and patient. But you know your father, and that’s not quite my style (not saying that prudence and practicality and patience aren’t important things btw). So let’s just put it out there. While there are no guarantees in life, when you come to a place where it seems hard to choose, I urge you to choose:
  • dreams over fears
  • adventure over routine
  • challenge over comfort
  • can over can’t
  • yes over no
Ali, too many people have been conditioned to play it safe in a world that longs for courageous dreamers and risk takers. So go for it! Dont be afraid to commit fully to the things that truly inspire you and bring you joy. I assure you stability and security are over-rated and almost always under-deliver. 

 Do you know how many people have shortchanged their own dreams of becoming writers or doctors or entrepreneurs because other people said it was too hard, or too competitive, or too unlikely? And settling for something unsatisfying but “reliable” has disappointed a lot of people. And it only gets harder once the reality of responsibilities and commitments set in.

Your dreams are not guaranteed to come true, not even with hard work and commitment, BUT I promise you that those who start on this path surely uncover the most amazing things. Sometimes the reward will be the appearance of another path or opportunity. Accepting this new path is not a sign of failure. This is how life works all the time. You head down one road with an end in mind, only to discover something else that compels you. Be open to these new roads. Accept that life is twisting and unpredictable and exciting, and that the gift of opportunity happens when you are bold enough to venture forth on the journey in in the first place.

Remember Ali, you can’t steer a parked car.

And don't expect things - earn them. Passion and hard work are an amazing combination. But dreams will never come true without action. The bottom line is that successful people, even the ones that make it look easy, have usually worked extremely hard. They have pushed themselves. Devoted hours to mastering something. So Ali, I urge you to become excellent at something. For you, I imagine it could be so many things. You are smart. Good with problems and with numbers. I have seen you when you do something you love. You become focused and determined and patient. You could be a surgeon. An accountant. An architect. Who knows? The important thing is to invest in yourself. And keep on investing. Embrace the challenges. Your life will be filled with them.

I want you to know that I am proud of you. So is your mom and all your family. Watching you at your soccer games, X-country meets and softball tournaments over the years was such a joy. So were the class speeches, summers at the lake, Spring Breaks in Mexico, and well, pretty much all of it. I will never forget taking you to your first day of kindergarten. You were so cute! (and you still are). Now, with university just around the corner (how awesome that you have been accepted to four great ones), I urge you to make sure you keep working hard. And practice for your driver’s license. 

And just before I end, a few other things: Be kind. Love your family. Clean your room. Stay active. Drink water. Expect storms and bumps. Be brave. Be thoughtful. And most of all, be You. Always.

The future is calling

Love Dad

-Sean Nosek


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