leadership, life

The Best Advice I Ever Received

Surely we have all gotten some good tips along the way from our parents, guardians, mentors, etc. All of it has helped to inform our choices in life and make us who we are.

But if you had to pick the one single piece of advice that has made the biggest difference for you in life, what would that be?


This didn’t come to me easily at first, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Clear as day.

2008 was a pretty busy year for me with a lot on my mind. My chocolate labrador Mandy passed away, I completed my first Ironman triathlon, Nikki and I got married, I coached my first community triathlon training program, and I was positioning myself to leave academia to be a full-time coach. I’m sure there was more but you get the idea.

With everything going on that year, one question loomed largest: How do I know if it’s the right call to leave SMU and pursue coaching full-time?

Certainly there were many things to consider in a transition like this. Ultimately I mulled over it for a couple of years before pulling the trigger.

I want to share with you one thing I learned along the way.


In 2010 I took on a personal development exercise with career/transitions guru David Zelman in which I was asked to pick five people to interview. They could be family members, friends, former coaches or teachers, current supervisors, etc. The only criteria is that they needed to be a huge fan (a supporter, a backer) of me and someone who was fully committed to my success and not afraid to tell me the truth.

In thinking back to why I engaged in this exercise, I think I was searching for clues about myself that would help give me the confidence to jump out on my own as an entrepreneur. I thought that increasing my self-awareness through the activity would bolster my confidence enough to get me off the fence I’d been on for 3 years.

Needless to say, I was pretty focused on listening for the right nuggets of information from my interviewees that would empower me for my goal.


In my case, the best advice I ever received was completely unexpected. Perhaps that’s why it made such as impression on me. It seemed out of left field, and yet something was so refreshing about it too. I now know the reason for that is because it connected with me on a deeper level, in regards to what I truly value in life.

So I’ll cut to the chase. The questionnaire had questions like…

  • “What do you see as my key strengths?”
  • “What is a major weakness of mine?”
  • “When am I most powerful?”
  • “In what situations am I least powerful?”

One of the five people I chose to interview was the late Peter Gifford, a very special man who spent 41 years as department chair at SMU. Here is a tribute that The Daily Campus published in his honor. I greatly respected Peter and his no-nonsense, positive style.

The last question on the list was “If you could wish one thing for me in the next year, what would it be?”

I’ll never forget how Peter answered this. Partly because there was no hesitation. But also because of the passion that accompanied his response.

He said, “I wish for you a family of your own.”

And then he went on to describe his love for Diane, his wife, and his five children, and how much he enjoys life with them. He went on to give examples of how they congregate at his house, outside on the patio, and talk for hours into the night. His face lit up and you could sense that he couldn’t wait to get home that day to be with his family.

Here I was, ready for the pearls of wisdom related to career, and Peter shared his heart with me about what mattered most to him and how he wanted that for me too.

When he shared this with me, I was a little surprised and taken aback because my brain was in a completely different realm. It took me a little bit of time to actually absorb what he said.

The result was that in a way, it provided “permission” for me to move in a direction that I was already committed to deep down. Before the conversation, I’m sure I was like many in thinking “I’ll get around to that (starting a family). I’ve got goals for now!”


An hour later after the interview, I called Nikki and told her she needed to come by my office…that there was something I just had to tell her.

Upon sharing with her what Peter said, I added that I was moved by his words and that I was indeed ready to go down this path and start a family. Nikki’s response: “I’ve been trying to tell you that for over a year!”

We cried together, right there in my office. Immediately followed by lots of laughter as we dreamed about the great possibilities that lay ahead.


So, I didn’t get the answers that I was expecting or looking for, in regards to career.

But I got the answer to a much greater one: I’m a family man.

Thank you, Peter.


One thought on “The Best Advice I Ever Received

  1. Julie Gifford Davis says:

    Love this- Thank you for such a wonderful artical and speaking so eloquently about my dad. We miss him every day and it is so great to hear about how he affected others. What a terrific message.

    Liked by 1 person

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