The best piece of advice that my dad ever gave me was this: “You get out of it what you put into it.”
My dad applied this advice to everything: school, sports, summer camp, even social events. It became the refrain of my childhood, a string of words I was familiar with to the point where I stopped processing their meaning. But the older I get, the more I see that they made their impact nonetheless.
The first time I remember this advice hitting home was in high school. I was up late, struggling through a calculus assignment and ready to throw in the towel, when my dad kindly reminded me that I’d get out of it what I put into it. As a frustrated senior who planned to study public relations and English, I clapped back, demanding what I could possibly get out of learning such complicated math. I still remember the way he practically chuckled in reply.
“The point isn’t to learn calculus, Kaley,” he said. “The point is to learn to work hard at something. That’s what you’re getting out of it.”
It completely changed my perspective. No longer was I working hard at calculus, which felt futile I was working hard at working hard. That moment helped me understand how important both parts of the phrase “you get out of it what you put into it” were. I could choose the value I received by choosing the effort I gave.
This was easy advice to follow when I was excited about something. For example, when I took my first public relations class in college, I was so determined to make the most of it that I walked up and introduced myself to the professor on the first day of class. Four years later, he’s a mentor who I still keep in touch with. When I had internships, I threw myself into them wholeheartedly, meeting as many people and taking on as many projects as I could. I knew from my dad that no matter how incredible an opportunity was, I was responsible for getting the most out of it.
While it was easy to apply his advice to exciting opportunities, it was just as helpful for events I was less excited about. Required classes, college tours I had zero interest in, the first and only season of basketball I ever played. My dad taught me to look at a situation and think that if I had to be there, I might as well make something out of it. Just like I had with calculus, I learned to look for the takeaway that was valuable to me.
Required classes, even if I had no interest in taking them, could still teach me something interesting. University tours I didn’t want to attend were still a helpful insight into college life. And sometimes, as was the case for basketball, the lesson was just that I didn’t want to put in effort anymore, and that was OK, too. It was helpful in evaluating both what I did and didn’t want. In negative situations, my dad’s advice translated roughly to “you can either be miserable, or you can be miserable and learn something,” and thankfully, I usually chose the latter.
What I understand now is that, from a very young age, my dad was teaching me I was responsible for creating my own experience in the world. This is one of the greatest gifts he’s ever given me. He taught me to see the value in everything and to be an optimist when I had to look hard for it. He taught me to view challenges as opportunities, then make the most out of them, depending on what “the most” means for me. He wanted, and wants, the best for me, and that meant teaching me how to make the best of every situation. I was (and let’s be honest, am) an anxious kid, and throughout my life, this one piece of advice from my dad helped me to show up for myself. “You get out of it what you put into it” is something I’ve heard him say a million times and I’ll always, always look forward to hearing it.