#NativeNerd column: 10 awesome life advice tips my father gave me

Vincent Schilling

My father told me to ‘shoot my best shot, check myself and clean up my own backyard,’ his lifelong tips still help me

My father Raymond Allen Schilling is an amazing man. He turned 70 this past year (October 31, 2018) and it fills my heart with warmth to think I have known him for over 51 years. He has been there for my good times and bad times, helped me when I couldn’t help myself and has always seemed to be proud of me no matter how slight my accomplishment was at the time.

My mother is the Mohawk, and my dad says he is admittedly Austrian and ‘something else.’ If you look at the photo above with he and his grandfather, he is definitely Austrian and ‘something else.’ He is a little brown kid too. To me, his grandfather, and my great grandfather looks extremely Native, but we all know how some family histories just get lost over time.

So - over the years - my dad watched his little Native Nerd son “read more books than anyone he has ever seen” and marveled at me looking at ants under my science kit microscope. He never really said anything about me taking apart all of my toys with a screwdriver instead of playing with them, and often made lighthearted jokes about me always trying to experiment with things such as baking soda and vinegar etc. etc. just to “see what happened.”

In short, he has always supported me.

He always said he wasn’t really smart because he was a blue collar union guy, but I have to tell you, he is the wisest man I know. He is also incredibly gracious and kind to my life partner/wife Delores and is thrilled that I am the associate editor at Indian Country Today. He never stops saying how proud he is of me.

Over the years, he has stopped giving me the funny greeting cards, and now they are all sappy and sweet. (I love them.)

But today, at 51 years of age, I am standing at the great precipice of my life, looking out at the vast expanse of my accomplishments. Not one of them has been achieved without his influence.

My father helped to make me the man I am today.

So in order to give my father some words of tribute, in order to demonstrate that I have listened as best that I could, I am going to list some true gems of advice that have guided me through my life to become who I am today.

Here are 10 awesome life advice tips my father gave me:

Clean up your own backyard

Stop worrying about other people and what they need to do in their own lives when you have unwashed dishes in the sink, unfinished or unstarted homework or oil that needs to be changed in your car. Worrying about the problems of others doesn’t do anything to improve your own life. Focus on yourself.

Shoot your best shot

Pick up the rifle, aim and pull the trigger. Do the best you can. You may not hit the target, you might hit a bullseye, it doesn’t really matter. But what does matter is DOING the best you can. Don’t THINK about it, Don’t TRY to do it, just get out there and “Shoot your best shot!”

You have no one to blame but yourself

In many situations, the wall that has come tumbling down on top of you was because of your own doing. Instead of blaming other people, what did you did to cause your own problems? If you focus on what other people have done, you don’t do anything to improve yourself. If you get in trouble for stealing or fighting, “You have no one to blame but yourself.”

In sales, one out of ten people will say yes. Get excited when you hear 'no' because you have gotten one of nine out of the way.

Back in the ’70s, my father was the top door-to-door insurance salesman in his California region. I cannot imagine, in a world before personal computers, the internet and smartphones, my dad literally knocked on doors to sell insurance. And he did it well. His advice to “Celebrate people saying NO” compelled me to never quit in life, to work hard and no matter how many times people might say no to a proposal, eventually you could find a way to success. This has stuck with me throughout my life. It has been a MAJOR influence on my successful experiences.

Have a huge mess to clean up? Don't look at the big picture. Pick up one thing, put it away. Repeat.

I remember at about 12-years-old, my room was a horrible and disastrous mess. My father saw me standing and staring at it as if it was a big picture. He looked at me and said, “Here’s how you do it. Pick up one thing, and put it away. Then repeat it.” He picked up a pencil or something and put it away. It was such a simple thing, but it worked. Every time I get anxious about the big picture, I pick up one small thing at a time - and put it away.

Depressed? Work.
Angry? Work.
Confused? Work.
At a mental standstill? Work.
The answer to most problems... is getting to work.

My dad actually told me and my wife this recently. But I found it incredibly profound and 100% true. If you really boil down depression, it is usually based on not taking action of some sort and being bogged down in the moment of despair and loss of not controlling a situation. I can’t speak for everyone, and I am not a doctor, but this is how it usually (if not always) is for me. But truth be told, this advice works for me every time. And ‘work’ doesn’t always mean your job.

Never, ever sit down if a woman is standing; offer your seat, offer to open doors.

My father is old school. Due to the teachings of my father, I ALWAYS at least offer a woman my seat to show that I wish to be respectful and give honor. I politely accept if she declines, but if I am in a situation that is not imposing, I will likely stand as well as an additional gesture of respect. The same goes for doors, as I will hold a door open for a woman and of course would respect if she declined. The important thing for me is to show respect for a woman’s presence as well as show respect for a decision she wishes to make.

Other instances of showing this respect is to politely step to the side if you are on the same path, a man is to stand closer to the street if you are walking the same way, or slow your stride gently if a woman is coming toward you to show a bit of gentility and grace - men should not appear imposing whenever possible.

Pay your bills first, and right when you get them

This is a no-brainer. Pay your bills first. Play later. I didn’t listen to this advice in college and I felt the disaster ensue. My father was an extremely responsible man, and though money was tight sometimes, I never knew.

If you have to burp, close your mouth and muffle it

This may not seem like a big deal, but it taught me a lot about presenting yourself well in public. But more than anything, I caught it at the moment that my dad was taking a moment to describe how to conduct myself in public. He cared about me enough to explain a small moment, that has stuck with me for all of my life. A small moment was actually a big moment.

Check yourself

My dad always used to tell me to ‘check myself.’ Before you go out fully swinging, take a moment to chill out and “check yourself.” Think about your actions, are the potential repercussions worth it? Stop yourself from acting out first instead of paying for it later.

Thanks for reading, in closing ...

Back in October, I posted a Twitter thread with some of these exact quotes from my Dad. He is an amazing man, and I continue to hope to make him proud. At 70, he is still hilarious and fun and never fails to tell me he is proud. I am a lucky son.

In the last tweet of my thread, I explained a simple thought - I will leave you with the words of my last tweet (which I will also embed below):

My tweet said:

*I thanked my father for all the good things he taught me in life.

One very special day my father, Raymond Allen Schilling told me,

"Thank you, son. But all these things, are your words now."

I love you Dad.

You made me who I am.*

Follow fellow Native Nerd, Vincent Schilling associate editor for Indian Country Today at @VinceSchilling - Make sure to use the Hashtag #NativeNerd

Email - vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com

Comments (3)
No. 1-3

Love it. Manners and thoughtfulness are always welcome. As well as praise for a good dad and learned elder. We are who we come from.


My folks always taught the same, and walked the talk. I am grateful every day to have been loved and cared for and given such wisdom.


I would add pay yourself first (saving 10-20% for retirement) then pay your bills.