My parents taught me many things about life.

They taught me the difference between right and wrong, between good and bad, to look both ways when crossing the road, to respect my elders, to not lie, cheat or thieve and to respect all life.
However, there were some critical elements of life that not only did they not include in the curriculum, but when they did, that they actually misled me about.
Here are just a few.

World leaders have as little real understanding of what it takes to run anything as do normal people

I have no belief in the ability of world leaders to do any better in running a country or an economy than most people have in running their own household budgets. Beyond getting themselves elected, politicians tend to rely totally on the goodness of the fates for their successes, when they have them. Whether they are left, right or middle of the road, their policies generally effect minimal change other than their control over our levels of taxation for the term of their appointment, and do very little to benefit their constituents.

Doctors do not sit at the right hand of god and medicine is not an exact science

At the age of 44 I was given a 50/50 chance of surviving a year due to a battle with colon cancer. I was told that it was mandatory that I follow up my surgery with a course of chemotherapy which, after pushing my surgeon for a dose of reality, I discovered at that time had only about a 3% success rate. I had a young relative who was told that he just had a bad flu who was dead 6 weeks after the first diagnosis. My parents believed that doctors could never be wrong and would do whatever their GP said to the letter. At the age of 60 my father found out that he had a stomach ulcer. Our GP told him that he needed to eat bland food so for the next 26 years my father lived on boiled chicken as his only protein intake… his doctor had spoken. Doctors are generally well trained and well prepared for their roles, but their error rate is no different from the rest of the population.

Author: Angelus (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

Bank managers should not be revered

My parents believed that their bank manager warranted a level of esteem (and fear) that was exceeded only by their GP. If they needed something from the bank, they would dress in their Sunday best and go cap in hand to beg for his largesse. I acted in exactly the same way with my first 2 loans, despite the fact that what I was looking for was only about 30% of the property value. It took me a while to realise that lending me money was why they existed. I learned to get multiple banks to bid for my business, and was delighted to learn that they could actually add some hitherto undisclosed incentives to win it. My first banking epiphany came to me when I realised that it was never the smartest kids in my school who became bankers.

Author: A1 Aardvark; via Wikimedia Commons

In the same way that your parents never understood you, you will also never understand your children

My parents didn’t understand anything much about my life. Not my sense of dress (as a rocker in the 1950s this involved black stovepipe trousers, red shirt and black sweater), my Elvis-pretend haircut, my music (increasingly dominated by the rolling stones), my friends nor my choice of career. The balance is that I have as little understanding of my own daughters who are both seriously conservative and more like my parents in attitude than they are to us. We are a dysfunctional family as it is the parents who ran away from home, rather than the kids doing so, as was the norm with my generation. The generation gap is only a question of cycle.

As much as you believe in free will, you are just the sum of your prejudices

Being central Europeans my parents filled me with their truisms of life, such as Germans are aggressive, Americans are obsessed with money, French are lazy, Italians are sex-crazed, English never wash, Russians are drunks, Jugoslavs are crazy and Gypsies are thieves (see “Let’s ridicule our neighbours more” posted May 2, 2011). I now, at an age approaching 70, having worked closely with all nationalities and having lived in many of the countries mentioned above, can finally at least honestly say that after having spent the last 20 years of my career working for/with SAP, I have finally overcome the first prejudice about Germans. I am still working on the others.

Relationships are harder to understand than the cosmos

Stephen Hawking may understand the cosmos, but he also understands that the biggest black hole in his almost limitless knowledge is his understanding of women. My parents had an arranged marriage that lasted over 50 years, and had a belief that all marriages were like this so could not understand why my first one ended after 8 years. Today the use by date on yoghurts is longer than most marriages. Relationships are significantly more complex to comprehend than the Big Bang Theory.

Money doesn’t buy you happiness but it does buy you choices

My parents brought me up to believe that beyond what was needed to stay alive, have a roof over your head and educate your children, money was unimportant and that money did not buy you happiness. I know quite a few wealthy people who are miserable, and even some who committed suicide, so at least my parents were right about the happiness piece of the advice. But money is important, as having some money available over and above the ability to meet life’s necessities, does give one choices in life that basic income earners never have the luxury of making. Those who are lucky enough to have earned this privilege in life should understand and treat it with respect.

Author: Luis Javier Modino Martinez; via Wikimedia Commons

As said by author Mitch Albom “All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers.”

Author: Vincent Wagner (Shack); via Wikimedia Commons



  1. PriyankaSAP says:

    Hello Les,
    liked the article. I guess, some things never change despite the diverse geographies.

  2. Thierry says:

    indeed… Good read thanks.

  3. John says:

    I enjoyed your opinions or reflections, as always, Les! It does raise all sorts of interesting questions for me though, way beyond the scope of this blog, about things like the life of your dad (who lived until he was 86?), what he went through in life, what he would think if he dropped back in today, and what his advice would be with the benefit of hindsight. Truly the perspective of a survivor I suspect who was able to deal with major change and led a long life? Diverges from your main thrust but very interesting to me.

    • leshayman says:

      John, I think that the major difference between us is that he had a deep belief in, and an awe of, those in authority, which I lost fairly early in my life. My father put value on people because of their role/title, whereas I try to base value on how people behave. However, I had the benefit of a more privileged life where my own survival was rarely something that others could control. Les

  4. Damu says:

    Excellent article Les. I feel that our parents and their guidance is like a Tug boat that helps the Ship to get out of the harbour. Once in the sea, we are on our own and we learn as we experience our life one day at a time…

    – Damu.

  5. leshayman says:

    Damu, I also find it interesting that even though we live in a very different world than our parents did, we tend to face similar issues and make similar mistakes. Les

  6. Jonathan Florence says:

    I have been an avid reader of your blog and for someone just starting their career and establishing ones roots, your discussions of business, personal experiences and life, have been informative and helpful.

    This article was a great read.

  7. leshayman says:

    Jonathan, thanks for the kind words and encouragement. Les

  8. morry says:

    Interesting how we either rebel, or totally conform to, parental behaviours/perceptions/conditioning. Does this mean that my son will turn into my dad?

    • leshayman says:

      Moishe, that depends a lot on you, but the odds are against it. Maybe he will end up like his great-uncle and run away from home. :-). Les

  9. Adriana says:

    Mr. Hayman,

    What if your parents taught you that you should always be more than others think of you, or more than you put on paper about you? But they didn’t have to present themselves in a commercial way to anyone… should one grow up and learn the lesson of his time?


    PS: Sometimes the smartest kid in school does become a banker … like in any other commercial field

    • leshayman says:

      Adriana, I believe that you need to have an external face like the multiple skins of an onion, that you peal away as you build the relationship. I do not warm easily to people who try to tell me who/what they are in first 5 minutes, particularly if they are trying to impress by telling me how rich/intelligent/successful/interesting they are. It is better to let people find all that out over time. Your parents were right. Les

      PS: Banking is different today than it was 50 years ago. In those days before global money markets, banking meant starting as a bank teller and working your way up to branch manager, and it was not a first choice career.

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