My dad was a quality engineer, working in the aerospace industry. But, it wasn't an easy road to success for my father. He was born and raised in China and, while he was able to attend school until he reached college age, the communist regime forced him into factory work for a decade. His dream of attending college was crushed. While working in the factory, though, he self-taught himself the violin and began teaching the violin as a way to earn a living on the side. Eventually, he came to America and worked three jobs while attending college. While he had to drop out to provide for his growing family, he always placed tremendous emphasis on education and achievement through hard work. He is retired now and living his passion as a violin teacher.
While I've always been aware of the "life lessons" I've garnered from my dad, it wasn't until I embarked on my journey as an entrepreneur that I realized so much of what my dad taught me -- about failure, aspiration, and self-discipline -- has greatly influenced how I operate as a businesswoman.
Failure. My dad once paid me money as a dare to try to "fail" a class, or rather, to get a B. I was in middle school and crying about bad grades. My dad warned me that constantly striving for perfection could do more harm than good. He insisted that it is healthy to fail sometimes because if you never fall down, you won't know how to pick yourself back up. For the first time, I had a sense of freedom through the realization that nothing should be perfect. In business, you fail every day and the important thing is to fail fast and fail often and learn from it.
In LARK's early days, we tried and tested at least 60 prototypes before settling on the version of our silent wristband/app alarm clock available today. Originally, we were trying to create the perfect earplug alarm clock -- but that would have been horrible. We quickly realized we were on the wrong path and moved on. My dad's advice prepared me for this type of "failure," and I learned to embrace it.
Aspiration. My dad used to come home from work every day and tell me I could be some sort of crazy leader or another when I grew up. One day, he would encourage me to be the first female president. On another day, he'd suggest I become a physics professor, or maybe a famous architect. My dad made me feel as though these amazing careers were not only in my reach, but that it was my duty to work hard to become someone who could make a difference in the world. He made it clear that I should aspire to greatness.
And I view my company in the same way. LARK started out as simply an idea for a silent alarm clock so my fiancé wouldn't wake me in the morning. Once Dr. Solet -- our advisor from Harvard and one of the top sleep experts in the world -- saw this, she opened our eyes to the possibilities. Now available in every Apple store globally, LARK is also a sleep monitor that records and analyzes a person's individual sleep health to train them with the easiest ways for them to sleep better, all with a wristband and an app.
Self-discipline. My dad taught me physics, trigonometry and violin. I was very lucky because along with math and science, I was exposed to the arts. Everything that I wanted to learn, I was allowed to as long as I promised that I would be diligent about the activity. And so I pursued art, the violin, gymnastics and the piano. And I knew I had to practice, or else I would have to give it up. When I was five, my dad took me to a concert and I fell in love with my classmates' rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" -- I wanted to be able to play like that. My dad said he would buy me a piano and give me lessons, but only if I practiced every day. I ended up playing until college.
Self-discipline is integral to the entrepreneur's existence -- and critical to how we structure and support our teams. I didn't realize that "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" was teaching me a management lesson at the time, but I still identify with that drive and consistent hard work. In fact, when I started LARK, I had three other people working with me. They all left for various reasons and I couldn't help but feel that our team had fallen apart. But I had to have the discipline to not worry about the small roadblocks and to focus on finding the right people--which ultimately made all of the difference to our success.
On Father's Day, and every day, I thank my dad for all he taught me, and all of the opportunities that he provided me. But as I run my business -- something that would probably surprise my childhood self -- I also often find myself asking, "What would dad do?"
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