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Three Lessons Best Learned Early

image credit: Peter O'Neill

We live in a society that seems to place a high premium on being comfortable.

People just don’t like to hear difficult things.

Nobody does.

Sometimes the things that we need to hear are so important, it becomes imperative the sender of the message delivers the point in a manner the receiver can digest.

The golden rule is not to treat others as you would wish to be treated, it is to communicate to others in a manner they wished to be communicated to.

Say it the right way, and you can change somebody’s life for the better forever.

Communicate the wrong way and you can lose the person for a very long time.

Three difficult conversations with my father impacted me positively to this day.

Character Counts

Growing up in North Merrick, Long Island, Saturday mornings were always devoted to chores and Mom’s dreaded “list”. Whatever the deed, cutting grass, house cleaning, or general errands needed to be done and done by noon at that.

When I was ten, I joined my Dad on one of those mornings for a trip to our local savings bank. The purpose of the visit was to close out the account.

After we left the Dimes Savings Bank of Wiliamsburgh on Merrick Avenue, my dad decided to count the cash in the folder once again. Yes, you heard me right. This was the time before wiring money was around. The withdrawal totaled $2300 and I noticed a concerned look on my Dad’s face.

“She transposed the numbers. We got $3200 instead of $2300”. After my dad delivered the news, I smiled and shouted, “We are rich!”

The look on his face began as shock and changed to sad disappointment.

“The money doesn’t belong to us. What would make you think otherwise? Why do you think your Mom and I are sending you to Catholic school? Did you think about the possibility the teller could be fired for the mistake? We are walking back in right now and you are going to return the money to the teller.”

Lesson #1- Character is your foundation. How you behave when nobody is looking is the ultimate test. Always do the right thing. Define your character early in life.

Always Do Your Very Best

I attended Fairfield University in Connecticut. A Jesuit school about a ninety-minute drive from North Merrick.

After my first semester break, my dad drove me back to school in early January. On the way, we stopped at a local steakhouse and enjoyed a wonderful meal.

When we arrived at my dorm parking lot, I thanked my dad for the lift and started to open the passenger door.

“Not so fast Patrick” he calmly stated.

Those four words gently let me know that I needed to close the door and listen.


My dad reached into the left breast of his sports jacket and took out a Robert Burns cigar. After a few puffs, he lowered his window slightly. He then reached into his right breast pocket and took out a piece of paper, looked at it, and then gave it to me to hold and read.

The paper was my woeful 2.1 first quarter report card.

Yes. Once upon a time parents were able to get the report without getting permission from the student.

“You see that score?” he asked in a low, controlled voice. “Do it again and it will be the local community college and you are on your own. You are better than this. Your Mom and I will not pay for that level of performance.”

It really wasn’t what my dad said, it was the way he said it. My dad tended to “elevate” the tone of his voice when he got angry or disappointed. The low, controlled tone scared me even more and I knew that he meant every word of it.

He handed me $50 and wished me luck in the second semester.

 From that point on, I never recorded a class grade below 3.0

Lesson # 2- You need to do the work to get the results. Nothing will be handed to you. Fail to do it and be prepared to own the consequences. You own it. Nobody else.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable

After I returned home from school after graduation, my dad called me into the kitchen one night. I returned from Connecticut earlier in the day after an extended post-graduation two-week siesta with my roommates at our Long Island Sound beach bungalow.

He grabbed a couple of cold beers, a piece of paper, and a pencil.

“Congratulations. Mom and I are proud of you. And congratulations on the job”

I was proud as well. Not only did I graduate with decent grades as a Finance major, I also secured a job on Wall Street in the institutional bond market with an international investment bank

$19,000 starting salary and blue skies straight ahead. I was headed to Wall Street in the 1980s. Life seemed perfect.

I was, in a word, comfortable.

As we sat down at the table, my dad said, “Let’s talk finances”.

He began to write down the cost of rent, car insurance, and a few other items. When I totaled the expenses, I looked up and said to him, “I can’t afford this.”

“You’ll find a way and a budget. We all have been there before.”

Looking back a few years later, I knew what was happening here.

 My dad was kicking me out of the nest. When young birds are living in a nest with their mother, the mother bird will begin to remove the soft feathers surrounding the thorns that make the foundation of the nest. The purpose of the mother bird is to make the nest uncomfortable enough that it prompts the young ones to fly away and start their life.

Lesson # 3 – Do not settle for the path of least resistance. Never get too comfortable. Always challenge yourself personally and professionally. Avoid complacency.


How You Say It Matters

Later in my professional career in leadership & management, I often thought back to those three conversations. Especially during the annual performance reviews that I either gave or received.

My dad changed my life for the better forever not just because of what he said, but also because how he said it.

To those who played on the basketball teams that my dad coached, they understood that “Mount St. Everett” could blow at times.

But when it came to the most important conversations, my dad owned the emotional intelligence to communicate to me in a way that he knew I would listen and accept.

The calm voice. The deliberate pauses. The hopeful ending.

Whether it be in our personal or professional life, some lessons need to be learned early. Surround yourself with one or two people who care about you and have the courage to deliver difficult feedback.

That person could change your life forever.


Patrick McGarry

Ponte Vedra Beach, FL

Patrick McGarry's picture

Thank Patrick for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 7, 2020 4:21 pm GMT

Lesson #1- Character is your foundation. How you behave when nobody is looking is the ultimate test. Always do the right thing. Define your character early in life.

This is a good one to extract for the whole utility industry. Customers won't remember the years of good service and trusted partnership if they get slighted or hurt by the utilities-- that will be the enduring image they have. So utilities need to treat customers with integrity at all times or risk losing that trust!

Patrick McGarry's picture
Patrick McGarry on May 7, 2020 5:55 pm GMT

"it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently" - Warren Buffett

I think Bershire Hathaway owns a few utilities and so I think he would agree with you Matt. How you treat people when they are down(like today) will be remembered. 


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