The Greatest Lesson My Parents Taught Me

leadership-working-hard-work-Todd-NielsenWhen I was 14 my Boy Scout leader took us rock climbing for one of our monthly camping trips. I had a blast. I fell in love, head over heels, for rock climbing. In school I would close my eyes and think about being off on some far away cliff face. When I went to bed I would imagine myself climbing through difficult maneuvers and hope for a climbing dream. I would train and exercise for the soul purpose of climbing; making sure that I did not gain too much muscle mass, but instead gained strength and stamina.

I would climb often in my teenage years, and several years later I began working at the climbing gym that I trained at. It was awesome teaching kids how to climb, to just be surrounded my climbing. I always had other jobs through most of my high school years, so anything related to climbing really was not work to me.

When I graduated from high school, I went on a month long climbing trip with two friends. We traveled all over the western United States and climbed. When I returned, life “began.” I started working full-time at the climbing gym as assistant manager. I also took on a full-time graveyard shift as a janitor at a shopping mall. Two full-time jobs, phew! I would work from 9 pm to 6 am as a janitor at the shopping mall. This was before the days of machines that cleaned the floors. We would mop the entire mall every night, take out trash and cardboard for recycling, clean bathrooms and everything else in the mall.

Then I would get in the car at just after 6 am and drive about 40 to 60 minutes to the climbing gym. I would change cloths, open up the gym, get things ready, manage the other employees when the owner was not there, and teach classes all throughout the day. I would also climb a lot, setting new routes for patrons of the gym. After about 9 months at the gym I decided to organize the largest indoor climbing competition that had ever been held in the state of Texas. The owner did not think I could pull it off, but it turned out to be a massive success.

So then I would leave around 4 pm and drive 40 to 60 minutes home. I would then eat dinner, sleep for about 4 hours and do it again. It was a crazy year; but I guess we do those kinds of things when we are young. I would often wake up around 6 pm, and freak out thinking that it was 6 am and I had slept through my shift at the mall. When I had days off I would usually drive 3 hours south to Austin, TX and go climbing for a few days. I remember many times getting home from a 2 day climbing trip at 8 pm, hurrying to get my clothes on and get to work to do it all over again.

I was paid more at the mall, but I worked at the climbing gym because I loved it and I was willing to pay the price to stay close to it.

At the end of that year I prepared to leave on a 2 year church mission. This was a huge sacrifice, but one I wanted to do. I was assigned to go to Argentina and spend two years helping, serving, and teaching others.

I do not have a lot of memories of things my parents said to me in my childhood, but while I was at the airport awaiting my flight to Argentina, my father said something to me that I have never forgotten. It summed up the core of what my parents had taught me, day-in and day-out for the 19 years prior. The words he said to me really were not that profound, but taken in perspective of what I just explained about working hard to stay in climbing, it was very profound. He said to me, “Todd, I hope you work as hard on your mission as you did on climbing.”

He could have not said anything more important to me at that time. I did work hard on my mission and do not have any regrets. My parents taught me that nothing in life is free. They taught me that if you want something, you work to get it. They did not teach this through words. I do not recall ever having a discussion about work. They taught me this through their sacrifices and their example of always working for us. My father was a hard worker and my mother was a hard worker. They put others before themselves for as long as I can remember.

If someone were to ask me, what it means to be a “Nielsen,” I would tell them that it means hard work. It is through that hard work that we have success and accomplishment. Orel Hershiser said, “I’m proof that great things can happen to ordinary people if they work hard and never give up.”

Hard work does not always mean long hours. Hard work means you give 100% of what you have to give to a task. Andrew Carnegie stated, “The average person puts only 25% of his energy into his work. The world takes off its hat to those who put in more than 50% of their capacity, and stands on its head for those few and far between souls who devote 100%.”

Earlier this week I shared some thoughts and quotes about hard work. It is a trait that we all need to persevere in encompassing. We have to focus our energy to make our lives and this world a better place.

When it’s time to work, work.  When you’re away, take care of other things.”  ~ Warrick Dunn

2013 was a tough year to me. I am not going to say it was my best, although it probably was. I failed so much because I worked so hard and tried to accomplish so many things. There were times I kicked-back, and there were times I was frustrated and angry about my progress. There were times I really wanted to give up, but I kept working…

I hope that in 2014, we can put ourselves in overdrive, focus our energy, and work our tails off together to make great things happen.

What is the greatest lesson your parents ever taught you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Todd Nielsen

Todd Nielsen helps organizations create miracles of success and profitability through the power of execution. Having served as Vice-President, President, Chief Operations Officer, and Chief Executive Officer of organizations, he has learned how to create a culture that "Gets Things Done." He is passionate about leadership, and is a dynamic and inspirational speaker.


  1. Ali Paskun says:

    What an encouraging and inspirational post, Todd! A great way to start a new year. Thank you for sharing.

  2. This is what I posted on my FB for my Team in Uganda which is working on eradicating poverty and creating jobs. Thanks for your great writing.
    “I will start by myself. The greatest lesson my parents taught me was to respect everyone, even the beggar on the streets, be kind and compassionate to everyone, even the homeless, work hard at everything, even when you are tired, give of yourself daily, even when you think you have nothing left to give, never forget your roots, no matter where you go in the world / education / corporation / wealth, always take care of your famiy and your community. The greatest lesson my father taught me was “Never ever give up on a human being and Never Leave Anyone Behind”. I miss you mzee but you live in me. Thank you.”

  3. Todd your post really resonated with me. I found 2013 hard. I let go of things that were crutches for me but also were holding me back. It was a scary year but I am looking forward to 2014 and growing. Thank you for your leadership and dedication.

  4. Todd, as I read your post, my eyes misted up. It was so refreshing to hear you again after a long time. To listen from your heart. I missed this my friend, the year was tough, but you are tougher.

    My mother taught me some great lessons. One was make the best of what is in hand. The other was to love tirelessly. I can give because I love. I can share because there is always something in my hand, no matter how small it may be.

    Thanks bro :) To greatness!

    • Having read your book, I understand, at least conceptually, what you went through as a kid and I have a lot of respect for what you have overcome and for the strength of your mother. It is apparent that she was a guiding beacon in your life.

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