Work/Life

12 Famous Women On The Career Advice They Got From Their Dads

Sofia Coppola, Toni Morrison, Lucy Liu and others share the best advice they got from their fathers that you can apply to your own career.

Fathers are more involved than ever in shaping their children’s lives. The Pew Research Center reports that over the past 50 years, fathers have roughly tripled the hours per week they spend on child care. The majority of dads in America see parenting as central to their identity, and with that increased involvement can come valuable personal advice on what you should be doing with your life.

Below, 12 actresses, writers, businesswomen and others reflect on the pivotal career lessons their fathers passed down.

Toni Morrison, novelist

“One day, alone in the kitchen with my father, I let drop a few whines about the job. I gave him details, examples of what troubled me, yet although he listened intently, I saw no sympathy in his eyes. ... Perhaps he understood that what I wanted was a solution to the job, not an escape from it. In any case, he put down his cup of coffee and said, ‘Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.’

“That was what he said. This was what I heard:

1. Whatever the work is, do it well — not for the boss but for yourself.

2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.

3. Your real life is with us, your family.

4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.

“I have worked for all sorts of people since then, geniuses and morons, quick-witted and dull, bighearted and narrow. I’ve had many kinds of jobs, but since that conversation with my father I have never considered the level of labor to be the measure of myself, and I have never placed the security of a job above the value of home.” ― The New Yorker, 2017

Lucy Liu, actress and director

“The one thing I did know that I learned from my father is that everything’s a business. So I worked a lot in order to just have money. It was called ‘fuck you’ money. If you have it, and something’s not working out, and they say you have to take this job otherwise you’re fired, you can be like, ‘fuck you.’” ― DP/30: The Oral History of Hollywood, 2013

Sofia Coppola, director

“[My dad, Francis Ford Coppola, told me] don’t wait for permission. You just do things, and hopefully people will follow.” ― W Magazine, 2016

Rashida Jones, actress, writer, producer

“My dad [Quincy Jones] gives really good advice, but he told me to pick two things to pursue. Just get really good at those things and learn everything you can about those things.” ― Business Insider, 2015

Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo

“My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, ‘Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.’

“... In business, sometimes in the heat of the moment, people say things. You can either misconstrue what they’re saying and assume they are trying to put you down, or you can say, ‘Wait a minute. Let me really get behind what they are saying to understand whether they’re reacting because they’re hurt, upset, confused, or they don’t understand what it is I’ve asked them to do.’” ― Fortune, 2008

Ali Wong, comedian

“It’s someone else’s quote, but my dad always said, ‘There’s no free lunch.’ And that actually has left quite a big impression on me. Yeah. So the idea that, you know, something always comes with a price ... I think about that all the time.” ― The Associated Press, 2019

Gwyneth Paltrow, businesswoman, actress

“I remember when I was maybe 27 years old and kind of at the height of my movie stardom — it was around the time of the Oscar and this and that. I think I was very much believing my own hype, which how could you not? I was sitting with my dad, feeling great about my life and everything that was happening, and he was like, ‘You know, you’re getting a little weird. … You’re kind of an asshole.’ And I was like, ‘What the hell?’ I was totally devastated. But it turned out to be basically the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s the difference between someone who loves you more than anything in the world giving you criticism and getting it from some bitter stranger on the Internet. What my dad said to me was the kind of criticism where I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m on the wrong track.’ I’m so grateful to him for doing that. He was such a no-nonsense guy in that sense.” ― Harper’s Bazaar, 2016

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx

“I used to sit at the dining room table as a kid and my dad would ask me what I failed at that week. If I tried out for a school play and didn’t get it, he would high-five me. He always encouraged me to fail. I didn’t realize at the time how much this advice would define not only my future, but my definition of failure. I have realized as an entrepreneur that so many people don’t pursue their idea because they were scared or afraid of what could happen. My dad taught me that failing simply just leads you to the next great thing. It was pretty unconventional parenting, but I realize now that if I hadn’t failed, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I tried to be a lawyer and failed the LSATs twice. It was one of many tests that showed me how some of the biggest failures in our lives just nudge us into another path.” ― Fortune, 2012

Beth Shapiro, executive director of Citymeals on Wheels

“[When I was in fourth grade] I was changing schools in the middle of the year and was really nervous about making new friends. I am intrinsically shy and my dad said, ‘Keep your mouth shut.’ He told me to listen to other people, find out who they are and then figure out what you want to say. That advice has helped me throughout my life. I think I’m a very good read of people, and part of that is understanding the importance of listening deeply.” ― Lifehacker, 2018

Gina Rodriguez, actress

“My father used to tell me to say every morning, ‘Today’s going to be a great day. I can and I will.’ Well, Dad, today’s a great day. I can and I did.” ― 2015 Golden Globes acceptance speech

Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

“The best advice Dad ever gave me was to keep asking bold questions and looking for their answers. He knew that curiosity transforms everyday obstacles into exciting challenges to be solved — and that once you have that perspective, possibilities become limitless. You can, quite literally, aim for the stars.” ― Time, 2017

Lupita Nyong’o, actress

“Knowledge is power: He [Kenyan politician Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o] ALWAYS reads and he is a walking example of how the power of an education never comes to an end. He has taught me that learning is the best way to stay young, beautiful and relevant. A free mind is stronger than a free body.” ― Facebook post, 2017