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An Open Letter to My Daughter

My dearest Kavya,

These past seven-and-a-half years seem to have gone by like the blink of an eye.

You’ve gone from a newborn princess cradled in my arms to a small princess experiencing the joy and independence that life can bring.

I can still recall the moment I got the news of your birth. I was not by your side then, but I felt like the happiest father on earth. Your mother and I marveled at your red cheeks, wrinkled fingers, and your intense eyes.

Your birth gave me the experience of my lifetime…an experience that holds the most precious place in my heart.

Now after these seven-and-a-half years, let me tell you that you have greatly affected who I am today. Without any hesitation, I can claim that you stand at the top of the list of people who have influenced my life.

Being a father helped me discover my own potential, and that was important because there was no other way I could have showed you by example how I want you to live your life.

Now here is something I want you to read very carefully in this letter. I believe what follows might be the most important words that will define your future. If you choose to ignore them, know that they would be the most important words you ignored.

You see, when I was a boy, my father – your grandpa – often pulled me aside to convey lessons intended to build within me what we generally refer to as “character”.

Most often his advice was very simple – work hard, be patient, think for yourself, do no harm – but I believe those lessons provided the foundation for everything that has followed in my life.

In fact, I believed every father would provide such lessons to his child so that he or she grows up to become a man or a woman with strong character.

When you were born, even I believed that I would pass on all those life-building lessons to you, especially given the immense responsibility accompanied by fear that came to me from knowing that there’s someone who, if not guided by me carefully, can end up losing her way in this big-big world.

And that’s exactly what I have been doing in bits and pieces over these years.

But there’s something that got me a bit frightened yesterday (though not surprised) when I read a blog on The New York Times that criticized India’s young graduates – terming them as irresponsible, non-thinking, unimaginative, uninspired, uninventive, unprofessional…and thus unemployable.

I was frightened because these allegations were against India’s future leaders, and you will be one of them soon.

But I was not surprised…because I see these accusations as true.

Yes, wherever I look around, I see a great part of the future of India as irresponsible, non-thinking, unimaginative, and uninspired…but still full of aspirations…a well-paying job, a big car, a big house, and the next expensive gadget.

I won’t cast doubts on the entire Indian youth, but I see no hesitation to do so for a majority of them. The past few years of good times that India has seen has made our youth careless and arrogant.

They believe that a job is their birthright, and that’s why they see no qualms in changing 5-6 jobs in as many years…all for the sake of making a few extra bucks to fulfill their aspirations as soon as possible.

I won’t say that the youth is at fault here. The real fault lies with parents and India’s education system that has never taught children the art of living a responsible, hard-working life. Instead, we are all basking in being a consumerist society, rich in money but poor in our choices.

This makes me fearful…extremely fearful of your future.

I am fearful because I am selfish (but a father is meant to be selfish for his child!). I care for you more than I’ve cared for anything else in my life.

And that’s why I’ve written this letter to you, which contains all ideas that I can ever share with you on building a good character…on being creative, independent, fiercely honest, forward-looking, and on treating money well.

Ultimately you may choose to tread your own path instead of working on a job – and it will be a great feeling for me – but these life lessons will stand you in good stead whatever you do, and howsoever you may choose to do it.

So here are some lessons from a father to his little daughter, who he think has the maturity to appreciate these and make them her guiding principles (but only after thinking independently whether these will really take her in the right direction in life).

A father’s 10 lessons for her daughter

1. Run your own race…always
Here is a story I heard from my father about a small girl. Let’s call her Kavya.

“Colour the duck yellow, and her umbrella green,” instructed the kindergarten teacher to her students. But when seven-year old Kavya handed her drawing sheet, the teacher asked, “Dear, didn’t you understand my instructions? You have coloured the duck purple and her umbrella red! Have you ever seen a purple duck?”

Kavya didn’t miss a beat, and replied, “But ma’am, I’ve also never seen a duck carrying an umbrella.”

So, is Kavya a little rebel? She might not be the model student. But she definitely is a brilliant, and an independent thinker…not chained by others doing the thinking for her.

You see, my dear, following some rules is absolutely necessary for us – like while driving, crossing the street, or paying our taxes. But remember this – always being consistent will not provide a creative solution to all your problems. You need to train your brain to look around at all possibilities…and to think independently.

You don’t need to always follow the leader. You sometimes need to ‘be’ the leader.

So I would love to see you have independent thought. It is absolutely, and pricelessly, rare. Also know that if you believe that you can’t think and act independently, you will be right! You will never be able to think and act independently.

Always know that the freedom to choose independence of thought and action, or bondage of others doing the thinking for you, lies with you.

2. Ask questions…then search for answers
Yes, yes I know that you have been doing this all through the past 4-5 years. “Why can’t I get this doll?” “Why should I eat an apple and not a pizza?” “Why only grown-ups can go out alone?”

I must also confess that there have been times where I have given you dishonest answers to your inquisitiveness. But that is exactly how life is going to treat you. At first, you will rarely get the right answers to your questions. But then you have to persist – keep asking questions, and then search for the answers on your own.

I, your mom, brother, teacher, or best friends, may or may not be there to help you out with the answers. So you must know deep within that this world is open for you to search for your answers on your own. And you must do that.

If you desire to be spoon-fed with answers, or led straight on to each step clearly laid out, your mind and its powers of independent thought may face extinction.

Always know that your life and career will start and end with you. Life will provide you with the right tools, resources and opportunities you need to be successful. Then it will be entirely up to you to choose the easy path, or the one less travelled.

Believe me…the latter will be difficult, but much more enriching.

3. Recognize change and embrace it
I have told your this fact before but let me repeat lest you forget.

If you throw a frog into very hot water, the frog will jump out, but if you put the frog in room temperature water and just slowly heat the water up, the frog will die there.

How does this matter to you? What life lesson can you take from this?

You see, all the big twists and turns that you will face in your life will be made up of small, tiny decisions that you will most often fail to realize. But therein lies the trick. You must be alert to all the small changes that happen in your life, and understand how they might have a meaningful impact on your future. This would be better than facing a big change that appears suddenly, and stumps you.

There is a great beauty in taking small steps in the pursuit of big things. But also know that these very small steps will guide you to the bigger things in your life.

I would thus not like to see you as the frog enjoying its time in the heating water, only to burn later. The better way for you will be to recognize the small changes in your life, and embrace them.

When you learn to embrace changes, you will begin to recognize that life is in constant motion. When you see boundaries as opportunities, the world will become a limitless place and your life will become a journey of challenge in which you will always find yourself capable.

So embrace the changes and challenges life throws at you with courage. Walk your path with an unshakeable spirit, and you will uncover immense strength in yourself that will allow you to not only survive, but to thrive with passion, compassion and beauty.

4. Work hard, and be lucky
It took me consistent hard work, patience, and determination for eight years before I could even think of living life on my own terms…doing what I love to do while at the same time staying by your side.

I worked hard to become a better investor and writer for each of these eight years. I won’t say that I have reached where I set out myself to go, but that is what I am working towards day after day.

At the same time, I know many people who love to fantasize about what life will be like when they ‘make it’, but they like to skip over the part that reads – hard work.

Like a young man I met a few days back, and who has spent the past ten years of his life destroying his body with alcohol, excessive food, and a sedentary lifestyle…but wanted to know a quick way to get fit, lean and healthy in just the next six months! He, probably, expects to get ‘lucky’ in his life by getting whatever he wants without the hard work to accompany it.

But life, you see, doesn’t work that way. If you look back to the lives of great people, and you must always look back to the lives of great people, the reason they became great could be found in one thing.

It wasn’t ‘luck’. It was ‘practice’…hard work.

Luck, like love, is a verb that runs on hard work. The practice is the reward. When you practice, and when you do the work, you get lucky.

A duck sliding like glass across a pond isn’t lucky to not drown in it. Instead, it’s working really hard – paddling furiously under the water to stay afloat and in motion.

So the idea for you must be to ‘do the work’. Because when you practice, and when you do the work, you will get lucky.

5. Never fear failure
We all have hopes and dreams. Success and happiness are our top two priorities to strive for.

However, a big wall always seems to be in the way. That big wall is ‘fear’, and it is because of fear we don’t take chances that could be rewarding.

But like I told you when you failed to win the first prize in the dance competition last year, you must know that failure is part of life. Without failures, no one has achieved success. Embrace failure as a way to learn how to succeed.

Always remember that failure is not the outcome. Instead, it is the relentless effort that matters most in life. Failures in life must always teach you that it’s always in your power to work harder and succeed in the future.

I or your mom will not be there for you always in your times of fear, but don’t ever let fear – especially the fear of failure – hold you back. After all, if you can learn something from your failure, then you did not fail. In fact, the only way you can fail in life is by failing to try.

So, just break free and never give up.

6. Money doesn’t grow on trees
Your mom thinks that you are too small to learn lessons on money. But I believe if you don’t learn them now, you will never learn them any other time in your life. Or even if you learn, you must take a long, harsh route to get there…like I did.

So before you start treating money as a master, like I see so many kids around me doing, know that money is not something that must drive you in your life and actions.

If you were stranded in an African desert with no water, and you had a choice between a bottle of water or few rupees, I’m guessing my daughter would be sensible enough to not choose the money.

Know that money is just a medium of exchange for us humans. It is worth as much (or as little, in case you are stuck in an African desert) as the people doing the exchanging agree it has. So don’t place too much faith in money.

At the same time, however, know that money does not grow on trees. I already showed you last month that money doesn’t fall off freely from the ATM.

Know that it is earned by sheer hard work and honesty. Of course, you will meet many people who will shirk the hard work and honesty part and still try to earn money (or may have already earned money), but know that that must not be the road you take in your quest to earn money.

7. Learn to earn, and then earn to learn
You might feel hurt to know this but I have to be very frank with you here. Just three years back, when you entered school, I had started saving for your higher education. I have always wanted to provide you with a great education so that you are able to become learned and independent in your life.

But I have realized two critical truths over these past three years.

One, you must not rely only on your education to learn in life. There’s a much wider world to explore outside of text books and I know you are now smart enough to understand that.

Two, saving for your higher education might ruin my, and your mom’s, retirement!

Since you love pictures, here’s something you must see…

This picture shows that (roughly) the amount of money I’ll be spending on your “school education” will be around 3 times what your grandfather spent for my entire education (including college and MBA).

And that’s not all! My head shakes and my heart quivers when I see this…

This picture shows the amount of money I must save for you if you were to just do schooling, plus if you were to opt for an MBA, or study engineering or medicine.

Simply said, I will be ruined saving this kind of money for your higher education. Forget the amount of donation that the colleges might be asking to take you in however bright a student you may be!

Okay, don’t lose heart as I would be fine with funding your school education. But let me tell you honestly that you must be ready to fend for yourself after that!

Don’t see this as any kind of punishment because you know how much your dad and mom love you. We also know how wonderful and capable you are. But we see this as the best way to foster self-reliance within you that will pay dividends for the rest of your life.

So know this from now that if you are interested in higher education (which you must be), it would be your responsibility to pay for it.

I will of course help you learn the skills to learn to earn and save and grow your own money for your higher education, but I will do just that – help you learn.

It’s your life, and you must take full control of your financial destiny. You might realize later that you may be one of the very few kids who worked to fund their own education, but that would make you so special! Isn’t it?

To earn your education, you can work, receive scholarships, or take out a small education loan, but be prepared to do it all by yourself. Your father won’t write you a cheque after your schooling gets over.

8. Never spend more than you earn
This comes from the previous lesson that you must learn to earn your own living when you grow up. The other and equally important side of earning money is ‘saving’ money.

This is the paramount of all money lessons you will ever need to learn in your life.

If you simply learn — to be frugal with your money — then you will less likely be among one of those students graduating with big debts – money that they have borrowed from banks, friends, or relatives.

Any debt takes away your freedom to think and choose work that you love to do. You will worry about your bills and may end up working for extended hours just to make payments with interest. Debt is like any other trap, easy enough to get into, but hard enough to get out of.

So learn to save money, or in other words, never spend more than you earn.

Be mindful of what you absolutely need without allowing emotions to creep in — to spend only when you have money in the bank.

Your savings will be the best friend for you when you need help indeed. It will help you cut those things that you don’t need in the first place – like your fifteenth doll or twentieth set of bangles.

Instead, learn to save money for bigger and better things in life – like your education.

9. Live your life with a map in hand
Now this is something I am advising you based on my childhood experience.

Never live life without knowing where you are headed. Like your dad never drives the car without knowing the destination, it is important for you to know where you are heading on this journey of life.

Think who you want to be and set written goals to achieve your dream. Of course, don’t expect all your dreams to come true…but a map will lead you to work every day to get closer to your dreams.

You may have to change the course depending on the circumstances, but always have a map of your life, and be vigilant.

Learn not to dwell too much on the failures of the past in the rear view mirror of your life. Instead, learn to look forward to meet another day of excitement and boundless opportunities that await you with open arms.

10. Have gratitude
I was frustrated to see you getting bogged down when your favourite doll broke down last night.

You have heard it hundred times from me, but let me tell you again that you are one of the very few lucky children to be born on this Earth. There are millions of unfortunate others who don’t get one meal a day, forget having any princess dresses to wear or toys to play with.

Keep this number close to your heart whenever you are sad about not getting things you like – Every year, around 15 million children die of hunger. And nearly one in four people around the world live on less than Rs 50 per day, which is what it takes me to get you a small tub of popcorn.

So you should be grateful for all you have, and for this lovely life.

Gratitude is after all having a ‘great attitude’. Let the sense of humbleness for having life and an opportunity to make difference as the founding pillar of your life ahead.

That’s all, my child!
I’ll repeat the 10 lessons I just shared with you…

  1. Run your own race…always
  2. Ask questions…then search for answers
  3. Recognize change and embrace it
  4. Work hard, and be lucky
  5. Never fear failure
  6. Money doesn’t grow on trees
  7. Learn to earn, and then earn to learn
  8. Never spend more than you earn
  9. Live your life with a map in hand
  10. Have gratitude

You have been an obedient child all these years, and I am sure you will take some lessons from what I wrote above. But still remember – the future has the potential to drastically alter our priorities.

It often happens that the things we consider as ‘very important’ become insignificant when reality hits, and we face a challenge that we never really thought of.

If for some reason I and your mom cannot be with you in those challenging moments of your life, know this. We will always be with you in the form of a guiding light. Whenever you want us to be listening to you, we’ll be in your heart.

Most importantly, know how proud your parents are for you. Over the small number of years you have been with us, you have already amazed us with your honesty, liveliness, intelligence, determination, and talent.

Even when you grow up to become a responsible, creative, imaginative, and inspired woman, you’ll always be my beautiful little baby girl.

Take care. I love you!

About the Author: Vishal is the Chief Tribesman at Safal Niveshak, where he works with small investors to help them become smart, independent, and successful in their stock market investing and personal finance decisions.

First Published on: Jul 6, 2012


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  1. Great post

  2. Thank you all for the appreciation! Regards.

  3. Hi Vishal;
    Normally readers avoid reading long posts; yours post was exception thanks to the superb advices and wisdom you shared with your daughter in this letter/(post).
    Ideally, every parents must teach their children these things..
    but the reality is that children learn more from their ‘Observations’.
    Secondly, from post it’s very clear that you expect a lot from your child which is absolutely fine.
    But it will be better if you will not burden her with your expectations in future.
    Under big trees, small trees don’t grow well. Priorities of Parents should be ‘Health’ and ‘Happiness’ of children. Everything else (including careers) are secondary.
    The Graphs on Education Expenses in your posts are ‘eye opening’; thanks for sharing it.
    Good Post. Thanks for sharing !

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