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“Do What You Love” & Other Career Advice We Learned from our Parents

In last week’s post about Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, I mused about how her upbringing contributed to her drive and professional success and I invited you to write in about the impact your parents had on your ambitions, work ethic and career choices.

I may have had last week’s parent-teacher conferences on my mind, igniting a desire to codify the values that make someone successful in life. Or it could’ve been my recruiter’s desire to articulate what makes some people sizzle and others not. In any case, I was hopeful that you’d send me your best advice, like chapters in a book, and I could sew together a guide to raising [or recruiting] my own Sheryl Sandberg.

Here are a few things that came in that struck a chord with me (Thank you!):


My mother was very, very creative, and inspired me to stretch my wings as an artist growing up. I danced, I drew, I painted, and I sang.


My father on the other hand, while good-intentioned, was very impatient. He didn’t have the ability to wait for anything. For example, helping me move in during college wasn’t an option. All that standing around and doing nothing for hours would have driven him insane.


So I learned to become very self-sufficient. I think the combination of my parents have helped me become unafraid of expressing myself, while also being uncannily sure that I’m responsible for wherever I want to get to in life. If I don’t make things happen, no one else will.


My parents instilled in me the values that set me on a course for being successful, regardless of my career choice. Yes, I mean this in the way you’d typically think; work hard, treat people fairly and with respect, give it 110%, seek out more responsibility, etc. But I’m also referring to the more important recipe for success: Follow your passion and do what makes you happy. Advancement, income and prosperity will follow… or it won’t. Either way, if you’re doing something you enjoy, you can figure out the rest.


I’m going to drive a semi-truck inelegantly down the middle of these two awesome contributions and tell you why they resonated with me.

I grew up watching my father and his father. They were my earliest and closest professional role models. On their best days, they could be described as Renaissance Men and on their worst, distracted entrepreneurs.

When an idea seized them, they went at it full bore, not backing off until they had mastered it. What that meant is that for weeks – or years – they were never fully present. You could tell they were working out a problem with the back half of their brain even as the front half was focused on you. They struggled to relate or recognize pivotal moments.

In the meantime, their work permeated every moment of ours. Their definition of work – a job – had no beginning or end, but continued to run in the background. We bought a family vacation home in Maine and soon after my father built a second office there. We were a ski family for a while, which made dad want to go buy a mountain so he could run his own ski resort. He wasn’t able to enjoy himself when he wasn’t working.

Dad & Me building boats

It would be easy to give them flak about this. I did and still do, though less often. But growing up in an entrepreneurial family taught me some great lessons in self-sufficiency, hard work, perseverance, ingenuity, and being true to your passions. And it was cool too. We were given a wide berth, encouraged to be creative and make decisions independently, so long as we could defend our ideas and finance our whims. All the time it was: “Hey, that’s a great idea. How are you going to make it happen?” We were never bored.

The sum total of these themes, with the Butts family’s unique twist on it, sounds like this: “If you find something you really love, figure out how to make money doing it.”

I know. Inelegant semi-truck. It’s the more aggressive, less idealistic version of “Do what you love and the money will follow.” More practical than romantic, like my gritty New England family.

There were some not-so-great consequences, sure, but in general Dad and Grampy were “Responsible Artists,” who figured out how to exercise their imaginations and creativity while never losing sight of how to earn a living. This was the instinctive, irrepressible marketing gene that they passed on to me and predetermined my career path:

“OMG, I love this! Now how can I package it up and sell it?”

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