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Harry's Gang: What advice would you give your younger self?

At one of my brilliant and well-received lunch presentations for a local service group, I noticed most of the members were “of a certain age.” Fast approaching that age myself, but with children of my own under 14 years old, I thought I’d take advantage of the group’s collective wisdom and asked them this question:

Knowing what you know now, and if you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your 20-year-old self? Here are some of their answers.

“If you want to keep a secret, tell no one.” Boy, that’s true. Nobody treats your secrets with as much respect and reverence as you do. Just telling one person means that whatever you’ve told them is no longer a secret, and it will get out. As a lawyer, I’ve heard plenty of secrets, and I am pretty good at keeping them to myself. But not everyone will treat your secrets as secret as you would yourself. Of course, it’s better to live your life and have no need for secrets, but I don’t know anyone who has done that.

“You’re young; have more fun now!” This one’s great. I employed many teenagers over the years in my restaurants, and one thing I liked to remind them: You can try just about anything you want, at your age. Want to be a movie star? Go to Hollywood. A professional hockey player? Go try out. Very little is lost to a 20-year-old who has “wasted” a year pursuing a dream. And every professional hockey player or movie star was once young and unsure. Having fun during your carefree younger years is a lot easier at 20 than it is at 50. Of course, I helped start a newspaper in my 50s, so not all is lost to old people. But it is easier when you’re young. Have fun when you’re young, and you’ll probably have fun when you’re old, too.

“Don’t start smoking.” That one seems to be in contrast to the one above. But “having fun” and smoking are two different things. I know plenty of smokers, and I’ve yet to find anyone over 30 who says they are glad they smoke. And every smoker I know who’s over 40 has told me they wish they had never started. Don’t smoke.

“Spend more time with family.” It’s so common for kids to start asserting their independence in their teen years, as they start spending more time with friends than with family. But by the time a kid is about 20 years old, they should start coming back to the family. I bet they’ll find that the older relatives — aunts, uncles, grandparents — are different people than they remember as kids. When I moved to Cloquet, I started to visit my Uncle John a couple times a week, and I made a new friend who was unique and completely different from the uncle I knew as a kid. This guy was smart and funny, enjoyed a drink now and then, and followed the Minnesota Twins religiously. He also knew everything about me, which was a little unsettling, since I had basically ignored him until he was in his 80s. And he had a unique perspective on famous family stories that differed from the way I heard those stories growing up. It turned out he had a lot more to offer as an adult than I ever expected as a child. I’ll never regret that time.

“When building your house, put the laundry on the main floor, not in the basement.” Seems wise. I bet you’d wash your clothes more often if it’s easier, and trekking down to the basement must be tough on old bones.

“Brush your teeth.” I suppose kids at 20 may need to be reminded of this, and it’s important because teeth don’t grow back. If you neglect your teeth, you may have irreversible damage. There’s not much you can do to fix your teeth at 50 if you didn’t take care of them at 20, and what you can do is painful and expensive. So, brush those teeth.

“Start saving now.” About a third of the responses were some variations of this theme, and none of the attendees were bankers as far as I know. We know that investing early is smart, but not many people do it. Since so many of the group recommended that youngsters start saving early, it must be smart. After all, this was a pretty smart group.

With age comes wisdom, it is said, and after listening to these oldtimers, I have to agree. Now, I’m looking forward to becoming more wise. I just wish I had known some of these things 30 years ago.

Pete Radosevich is the publisher of the Pine Knot News community newspaper and an attorney in Esko who hosts the cable access talk show Harry’s Gang on CAT-7. His opinions are his own. Contact him at [email protected].