My father is an interesting person, to put it mildly. A child prodigy, he went on to invent MIME -- the standard that allows anything other than plain text to go over the Internet. When he was trying to sell people on this project, he told them someday he wanted to get pictures of his grandchildren emailed to him. This statement was hilarious, as the Internet was something you could use to send somebody a message on the other side of the lab in a few dozen colleges, but that was all. When I emailed him my first ultrasound pictures, he cried happy tears of more than pride. But the fact that he's one of the grand old greybeards of the Internet might be one of the least interesting things about him.
When I was 7, I killed a cricket. It was a big cricket, and it left behind a carcass so large I didn't know what to do with it. I sat in the backyard, looking at the dead cricket and wondering about death. And so I did what many children do when faced with big questions -- I asked my dad.
My father, who was raised Jewish, double majored in math and religious studies in college, and became a Buddhist/Jewish/Atheist/Humanist at some point before I killed the cricket.
I asked him what happened when you die, and was treated to a 40-minute lecture about the various beliefs of different religions and cultures when it comes to the afterlife. He ended this lecture by telling me he found great comfort in the idea of reincarnation, but I could choose to believe whatever made me feel better, and right, and that nobody would ever be able to tell me it was wrong because we all know exactly as much as everyone else -- nothing.
This was no comfort to me whatsoever.
My father filled my childhood with interactions with future celebrities I couldn't have cared less about at the time -- but these anecdotes now get trotted out at parties to the amusement of friends and coworkers. Like the time I put Steve Jobs on hold and ran to get my dad in my bathing suit, annoyed that "work people" were calling when I was trying to swim in the lake. And the time I played softball with Kenny Loggins. Or when Jim Morris dressed up as a gorilla and scared me so much I cried.
Thanks to my father, I've experienced so much more of life than I have any right to do, and through that and watching him, I have learned the following:
Make up your own job description. Whatever your job title, the reality should make you part teacher, part inventor and part entrepreneur. These three skills will take you anywhere, so long as you're clever enough to utilize them.
Keep your standards high. You cannot settle for less than you know you are capable of. No matter how comfortable a situation might be, if you are intellectually stagnant you might as well be intellectually dead. You must constantly challenge yourself to do things that are harder, that you have never done before. Because you never know whether or not you're going to be good at something until you try. And it is always more rewarding to be good at something hard than to be good at something you already know. Take pride in your work.
It's important to try new things. To have new experiences, to get yourself out of your element. That said, it is also important to remember your values. No matter how you experiment, you must remember that every action you make says something about your character. This means that you must create self-imposed limits, and nobody will know better than you where those should be.
You need money, but it doesn't buy happiness. It can buy lots of cool toys, the latest gadgets, and the opportunities to create happiness, but it does not actually provide you with real satisfaction. You can make money and you can lose money, but real happiness is not owning the car of your dreams -- it's lying in a hammock in the sun with a good book and the sound of the wind in the trees. Real happiness is found in moments with people you love, doing what you love, and no amount of money can buy that.
It's OK to have flaws. Be aware of them, but don't let them consume you.
Cultivate your quirks. They might make life difficult for you, but they also make you memorable, they make you unique -- and as you grow up, they make you interesting. And interesting people are good company for everyone.