What I wish I knew then

High in the sky on a northbound flight, a fellow passenger gave me a new perspective, and taught me some lessons on life.


I’m on a flight to Brisbane, sitting next to a lovely Canadian man named Harry. I haven’t asked his age but he tells me he’s been married for 40 years, so I’ve guessed he’s in his sixties. He tells me he’s missing his son’s birthday party. He’s not sure how old his son is, “he’s in his late 40s”, (I now place Harry in his seventies) so maybe his maths skills are deteriorating, just like his hearing.

Stuck for a blog subject (as I always am – you entrepreneurs are a hard lot to please) and impressed by this quiet man’s patient and stable outlook on life, which causes me to ask myself when I might achieve that level of inner peace, I start questioning him. I’m trying to save some years of my life here. Trying to cut corners. Trying to avoid making the mistakes I know I’ll make if someone doesn’t stop me and warn me. Cheating? Nah, I’m just being smart.

So poor Harry gets a barrage of questions, and feels like a suspected terrorist under interrogation. I’m relentless. I don’t give up. I ask him what went wrong, what he wouldn’t do again, what he should have done. What would he have done then, knowing what he knows now? Harry’s views are below.

On money: “Money should not be that important. It’s just a tool. You can be just as happy in a $50,000 house as you are in a million-dollar house.”

On investing: “If I knew back then what I know now, I would definitely put a little money aside in different directions. I would have a couple of mortgages, very solid. I wouldn’t have gambled. I would have had a plan.”

On career: “Do what you like to do. Don’t be forced into doing things. Don’t do anything that makes you miserable. Look at the Virginia shooting massacre. Do you think that kid was happy? Is it his fault that he wasn’t enjoying himself and that he felt all that pressure?”

On discipline: “This is out the window. When I was a young boy, kids would come home from school and tell their parents that their teacher hit them. Parents would reply, ‘You must have well deserved it’. These days if a teacher even looks at a kid, the parent will be up at the school laying charges.”

On stress: “When I was young, I never heard of stress. There’s a lot more stress in the world these days. Try to relieve that stress. Work for half a day at a local hospital. Go walking. Do work for the community.”

On family: “No matter what, love them all the time. Love them to death. Not necessarily spoil them, just love them. I would have loved my kids more. I mean I would have held them more and told them I loved them more.”

On sitting on a plane next to a girl who loves business and writes blogs: “What’s a blog?”

Emma Brown, at 27, has bought two businesses and sold one. She is Chief Chick of Business Chicks, Australia’s leading community for women. She’s on the board of Entrepreneurs Organisation, and lives in Sydney with her fellow entrepreneur partner.


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