9 Invaluable Lessons My Dad Taught Me About Life

{By Ellery Sadler}

Growing up with a fantastic dad changes your life. It changes the trajectory of your future. It’s almost Father’s Day, and in honor of my favorite man in the world, here are 9 of the lessons he’s taught me that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

the most important things my dad taught me

1. Attitude is Everything

One of the first pieces of advice I remember my dad giving me was, “If you have to clean, dance with the vacuum.” At the time, I just thought I had a super cool dad who could dance with cleaning tools, but now I realize his message was not so much about breaking out the dance moves as it was about attitude. Attitude changes everything. If you approach even menial or tedious tasks with an attitude of thankfulness, you can turn cleaning the house into a dance party. (It happens frequently at our house.)

2. Don’t Ever Try to Be Noticed for Your Generosity

My dad is one of the most giving people I’ve ever met, but he never talks about it. He has given so much away, and when people have tried to get his picture in the paper or his name on their donor list, he always refuses. Why? Because he believes that generosity doesn’t need recognition.

You know. God knows. That’s enough.

3. Climb Out of the Box. And Stay Out.

Don’t we all just love the box? I know I do. Comfort zones are so lovely and, well, comfortable. But my dad has been blowing comfort zones and stereotypes and boxes and preconceived notions out of the water for as long as I can remember. The discussions at our dinner table are sometimes shockingly deep or strangely counter-cultural or hilarious. Just plain hilarious. But that’s the way my dad thinks. He lives life from a different angle.

4. Your Mind is Your Money Maker

My dad has the soul of a visionary. He is an entrepreneur. A business builder. A mover and shaker. He’s always taught me and my sisters that our minds are our greatest asset. Don’t count on other people to figure out your life or give you the right job. Always, always do everything with excellence. Set yourself apart by doing more than just your part. Use your brain. And make your brain make money for you. He always says that you want a job that uses your mind as your skill, because your mind can always learn and grow and (in the immortal words of Taylor Swift) it never goes out of style.

5. Adventures Come To Those Who Make Them

My dad is the king of making adventures. That could mean making a raft out of tree trunks when we were little (where did those spare tree trunks come from anyway?) or riding semi-wild horses through the mountains of Colorado (which could be part of the reason I don’t love horses) or ‘purposefully’ getting lost in a maze of Venetian alleys (why do some people hang little witches over their doors?). Don’t wait for adventure to come to you, go out and find it. Or make it happen right where you are.   

6. Money Is Meant to Be Spent – Don’t Hold Onto it Too Tightly

While as I child, I did (and maybe occasionally still do) use this as an excuse for the money burning a hole in my pocket, the principle is very true. Anything you hold onto too tightly will own you, be it money or career or status or popularity. Money has a funny way of changing people, of controlling them. So never hold onto it too tightly. Keep it in the flow. Keep it moving. It is meant to be invested and given away and spent, not hoarded.

7. Don’t Be Afraid Of Thinking

Our world is so completely drowned in noise and inundated with nice, easy to understand sound bites of information, we forget to think for ourselves. One of the most valuable lessons my dad has taught me is to use my brain. Like, actually use it. Process information. Analyze details. Look at the big picture. Think through things for yourself.

For some, this comes easy. Some people are just better at thinking, I guess. Once the TV is off and the questions are asked, for some people, it can be hard to actually think. But your brain is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. So practice. Practice thinking.

8. A Man Needs to Be A Man

There is something special about having a dad that can fix literally anything, drive a boat like a boss, look fabulous in seersucker, build businesses from his brain, and be the kind of man you can both respect and adore. He’s shown me what a real man is by example. My dad has always made it clear that a man doesn’t have to fit a certain set of rules or have a certain amount of money in the bank to be a man – he just needs to be a real man. And what does that mean? It doesn’t have to do with looking like Captain America (although that is nice) or having a high power job or checking the right boxes.

My dad has taught me that a real man is a leader. He takes responsibility. He is the first one to show up and the last one to leave. He follows through. He is upfront and honest. He doesn’t back away from a challenge and if he gets into a mess, he handles it with integrity. He thinks of others first. He finds the humor in life and realizes life is about so much more than just him. He isn’t afraid to be himself. Most of all, he loves God and he loves others. That is a real man.

9. Go Big or Go Home

If there is one wonderful lesson I’ve learned growing up it is go big or go home. My dad has showed my sisters and me that it is good to dream big, and then turn those dreams into a reality. Want to start a business and become a millionaire? Go for it. Want to find a way to travel the world? Do it. Want to be president? Work for it. Want to change the world? You can.

Big ideas are only as good as the action you take to make them true.

So don’t be afraid to dream bigger than most people even think. As Leo Burnett said, “When you reach for the stars, and you may not quite get one, but you won’t get a handful of mud either.”

Also, laughter is good – very good. Never lose your sense of humor.


What has your dad taught you? Comment below!





  1. BlairCLC says:

    Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful!! Well said!
    Love this. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Truly inspiring. What a beautiful message, Ellery!

  3. Susan S. Hayman says:

    My Dad taught me to be smart, be generous, be wise, be kind, be ethical, show up and work hard.
    Great article, Ellery. Lucky Dad

  4. Monica Hernandez says:

    Elery… what an amazing article! Your words are so incredibly honest and true, and I cannot think of a better way to honor your father than to acknowledge and live by his invaluable lessons. Keep on doing what you do as you inspire so many people along the way!!

  5. Thanks, Ellery, my dad taught me similar things!! He passed some years back. Thanks for memory lane!!!

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