Life lessons learned from working with family

By David Carnes | March 2018


About a year and a half ago I hired my niece Annie to work at our agency in Minneapolis. I am no stranger to working with family – my wife Lisa and I have collaborated professionally for over twenty years. Still, I wasn't sure about taking the leap and actually hiring a more distant relative.

I weighed the pros and cons. What happens if it doesn't work out? Think of all the horribly awkward weddings and funerals we'd have to look forward to.

Uncomfortable reunions aside, If it did work, the job would be a good opportunity for her to get some agency experience. Also, ArcStone needed the help right away and what the heck, we'd always gotten along pretty well at Christmas and Thanksgiving. 

Now, after a year and a half of working closely together, Annie has given her notice and has moved on.


How do I feel about the whole thing?

I feel a little sad but mostly grateful that I had the chance to get to know her better. She did an outstanding job while she was here and now we have a life-long relationship that will be much richer given the shared experience. 

That's the upside for taking the risk and working with family, and I'm glad we both did.

I've attached our final letters to each other. Hopefully the exchange of parting advice between uncle and niece will be useful to you as well. 



Letter from David to Annie


Dear Annie,

I wanted to take a little time and let you know how much I’ve appreciated the opportunity to get to know you. I wouldn’t have had a chance if you wouldn’t have reached out, so thank you for having the courage to make the connection. I’ve learned a lot from you and I look forward to celebrating our future successes and lessons together. 

Know that you have an uncle who really cares about you and if you ever need anything, I’m here to help.

So with that in mind (and to save us both time), I wanted to assemble some advice that I wish one of my uncles or aunts would’ve laid on me when I was your age.

So let the unasked-for advice commence! I will phrase this in a good way for a millennial like yourself…


14 Life-Changing Pieces of Advice From an Uncle to a Niece

  1. You can hold completely opposing views in your head, both can be right and your head won’t explode. Practice this, it’s useful.
  2. Take time for stillness daily, learn to connect directly with the poignant clarity, goodness, and That Which Knows that is at the heart of everything.
  3. Learn to want what you already have.
  4. Nothing works unless you do. But keep in mind that you don’t really have to work that hard. If you’re doing it right, it will feel easy.
  5. Don’t mistake activity for productivity and almost more importantly (knowing you) don’t mistake inactivity as non-productive.
  6. Success in life is due to the cumulative effect of little habits adding up. Just like compound interest over time, habits add up. What you do regularly will shape you like water over rocks. So keep brushing your teeth.
  7. Hold your goals, opinions, wounds, and identities loosely. Think of it like holding a delicate songbird – don’t crush what you think is true by holding on to it too tightly. Be willing to let everything go. Especially let go of anything negative in your life, that is what gets everyone into trouble.
  8. Don’t believe what you think. Your eyes see, your nose smells, your ears hear, and your mind thinks. That’s it’s job — it generates 50,000 thoughts per day. Where do all those thoughts come from? Do you think you’re thinking them. Nope. Seriously consider the question. I’ll wait.
  9. Contemplate death and impermanence regularly. You and I have talked about this. I think keeping your death and the death of others in mind is fundamental to living life well. It is also one of the three hard realities most people ignore. If you want to know what the other two hard realities are, you will have to ask.
  10. Take time to play, frolic, indulge in idle time, be silly, and reread Harry Potter.
  11. Keep a journal and write at least once a day for yourself.
  12. Always be reading something. Teach yourself to listen to audiobooks and get an audible subscription.
  13. Have at least two mentors — one that is 20 years older than you and one that is 20 years younger.
  14. Know that no matter how tragic, everything will work out in the end.

I know this is a bit weird, but by now I’m sure you expect it from me.


With Love,

Your Uncle & Humble Student David



Letter from Annie to David



First off, I want to say thank you. Thank you for taking a chance on me, for guiding me, for mentoring me and most importantly, for always being my uncle first.

I have grown a lot in the past year. Not only in my career but also in my personal life. A lot of that growth is thanks to you. You pushed me to do things I didn't think I could and made me reach for goals I swear I couldn't achieve. And even if I did fail, I knew I'd have your support and genuine enthusiasm to pick me back up again. I have truly enjoyed my time at ArcStone / AMO and will always be incredibly thankful for this experience. I'm glad we'll still see each other at family gatherings (and hopefully other times, too).

My own list of advice for you. :-)

The ones marked with a star (*) are all things that you taught me.

13 Life-Changing Pieces of Advice from a Niece to an Uncle

  1. At the end of the day, do our small worries and stress really matter? Will they determine our happiness? No.*
  2. Always be curious and never stifle your imagination, no matter how wild.
  3. A friendly smile can make the world of a difference.
  4. Sometimes the negative, curmudgeon-y people in your life are dealing with challenges we cannot see. Don't be so quick to judge them.*
  5. Exude empathy and compassion — even when you don't want to (actually, especially when you don't want to). The world needs it.*
  6. When you need ultimate peace and clarity, go outside. Travel somewhere man has not touched.
  7. Laughter really is the best medicine.
  8. Find a mentor. Lean on them. Reveal your worries, ask questions, take their advice.*
  9. Realize people's true strengths in life, work, relationships, etc. Give them opportunities to shine.
  10. Always keep your body moving! Don't let time or age stand in the way of physical or mental strength.
  11. Be fiercely loyal to your tribe.*
  12. Eat the cake! Drink the wine!
  13. A relationship centered around genuine love can overcome any obstacle.

With love & gratitude, Annie

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