When I was seven, my dad made me bat left-handed.
I’m not left-handed, in case you were wondering. Nor did I show any signs that I was ambidextrous. But he forced me to step over home plate, adjust my stance so my left elbow raised higher than my right, and take a swing. It took several tries for my body to stop working against me, my left foot wanting to take a step toward him rather than stay firmly planted.
I’m not sure when kids start showing signs of strength—that they’ll excel in some areas and struggle in others. I was seven, for fuck’s sake, five years before I ran my first race or saw the inside of a weight room. Yet somehow, my dad got it in his head that his daughter should and could hit the ball further, and since that wasn’t happening it was time to switch tactics.
I am, and always will be, the product of my dad.
We’re both stubborn, argumentative, and competitive. We have zero issues with risk or confrontation. We have many, many issues with being told what to do.
My dad never used, “That’s just the way things are done,” as a reason to do something. If one strategy failed, you found a second, then a third—ignoring those who considered the latter two inviable options.
He taught me to find solutions when no other solutions were available.
I was twenty-seven years old, interviewing at the last job-job I ever had, when the vice president of the company asked how I approached decision making. My response was, “If you give me an option A or B, I’ll probably say ‘F both,’ and find an option C.”
—And people really don’t like that. They’re comfortable hearing, “Keep your weight on your back foot, raise your elbows, keep your eye on the ball,” because those standard approaches are tried and tested. They’re not comfortable with a literal 180, flipping your stance to stand on the opposite side of home plate.
…And he taught me to exhaust every solution.
My dad never told me I had to be employed in order to make a living, nor did he address the probability that I would fail. He started farming during the ag crisis in the ‘80s, where farms around the country went bankrupt. On a much, much smaller, tiny fraction of a scale, it seems highly unlikely that I could make a healthy wage as a freelance copywriter in one of the most expensive cities in the country.
And I almost didn’t. My first year freelancing, I made the same salary I made as a twenty-two year old straight out of college. It causes me physical pain to print that online. But when I went home for Christmas that year, and told my dad I didn’t think I could survive year two, all he said to me was, “Do you know where I would be if I gave up year one?”
My dad was the one who taught me to think differently.
Or, better put, to not struggle against a new way of thinking just because no else tried that angle. Which is actually quite ironic, because that is precisely how I make a living.
People pay me to make them stand out. In a heavily populated area, where nearly every industry is oversaturated, it’s my job to describe people in a way that gives them an edge over their competition. And in order to do that, I can’t think like everyone else.
And it’s a total bitch, I tell you. Because every time you find a way to set yourself apart, you will have someone or something push back. You will have people tell you that no one will buy it, no one will get it, or no one be inspired by it—and it’s on you to stand your ground.
And he told me to push back against those who say otherwise
That first little league game, right after my dad declared me a lefty, every parent but mine tried to intervene. They called time-outs, yelled at the coaches, yelled at the pitcher, yelled at everyone but me that I was right-handed and therefore I should return to the opposite side of home plate.
That was the one and only sport I ever played that wasn’t running related. Over the next ten years, to say I was an average player would be a compliment.
The one skill I brought to the team was my ability to steal almost any base. Since I batted left-handed, all I had to do was drag bunt the first pitch, then sprint down the line before the catcher reached the ball. It was the one thing that set me apart, the one thing that everyone else pushed back on, and I don’t know how my dad figured it out when I stood under four feet tall.
Today my dad turns 60, and I spent this morning trying to pinpoint what—of all our similarities—makes us so alike. Beyond our personalities, where we overlap most is our refusal to go with the most common approach.
I built a very unorthodox life for myself because I have a parent who taught me not to listen. And my very first memory of that—the first time I chose my way in spite of everyone telling me otherwise—is telling a group of little league parents, “That’s not how I hit.”