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What I Learned This Week: What I Would Do If I Were 22 (Again!)

06/16/2014 08:30 EDT | Updated 08/16/2014 05:59 EDT

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A few weeks back, Dan Roth, the Executive Editor of LinkedIn, tossed me a challenge for the month of June. In an email, he wrote: "We are asking you to help guide the graduating class of 2014 -- and all young professionals -- in a series called 'If I Were 22.'"

As part of email, Dan tossed off a few pointers on what to focus. The one that appealed most to me was:

What do you know now that you wish you'd known then?

Thinking back, the age of 22 was an amazingly transformational period for me. I had just been fired from my beloved job as a rock 'n' roll journalist (after throwing wine at a colleague who was soon to be my boss; don't ask!), and was finally about to graduate McGill University.

Since me and my long hair didn't impress any of the on-campus recruiters enough to get even one measly job offer, I was forced to go it alone as a greener-than-green marketing consultant. In retrospect, this getting fired was the greatest thing that could've ever happened to me, but who knew that -- and could have convinced my panicked parents -- back then? (BTW, that's me at 22 in the photo above, interviewing the late Phil Lynott of the band Thin Lizzy.)

As a parent of two sons who are now in their 20s, I figured I'd take on Dan's challenge just after Father's day, as a lot of what I have to say to this year's grads are things I've already shared with my children...and things I wish my own father -- or anyone, for that matter -- would've shared with me.

Given the profundity that emerges from many of these so-called "advice posts" on the Net, my counsel may appear trite in comparison. But it comes from both the head and the heart, and it's 100% street-level authentic. So without any further ado, to those in the Graduating Class of 2014, or those who wish they were, here are three simple points of retro-wisdom that I wish I'd known then, or as we'll call it, #IfIWere22:

1) EXERCISE AND EAT RIGHT

When I was 22, I was a sloth. "Exercise" was walking to the car, or to the turntable to flip the album over to side B. "Eating right" was choosing the Filet of Fish instead of the Big Mac at McDonald's, and proudly telling my doctor that I had forsaken Coca-Cola for the healthier choice of Nestea Iced Tea (yes, he rolled his eyes to the point of seeing his own cerebrum).

While I am now far from vegan, I am very conscious of what and how I eat. And I am exercise-obsessive, not just working out like a grunting fiend, but also evangelizing my tools of choice (TRX and Rip-Trainer) to anyone who will listen, and many who won't. These two immutable elements of a healthy lifestyle were unfathomably foreign to me back then. After years of pushing, pulling, lifting and sweating, I am in pretty great shape now, but man, how I wish I had jumped on this train at 22...or even earlier. And FYI, this point has NOTHING to do with vanity; being in healthy shape helps you perform better in countless aspects of your life... particularly business.

2) UNDERSTAND FINANCE

This isn't about becoming an accountant or economist, but understanding numbers and the ramification they have on all aspects of one's life.

Knowing numbers minimizes, if not eliminates, all sorts of problems, be they business, personal or even relationship-oriented (the greatest source of tension between couples are always money issues). Whether it's choosing to buy or lease a car, ensuring you put a few dollars into proper investments (like life insurance, even at 22!), or just managing personal budgets, mastering math helps you make better decisions that effect both the now and the tomorrow.

And as a sub-point to #2, if at all possible, buy something of major value early... most notably real estate. Many moons ago, when I could barely afford it, I bought some farmland. It was re-zoned residential, and paid off handsomely. Revenue-generating properties, like apartments or offices, can provide amazing growth potential while giving you a place to live and/or work virtually rent-free. Yes, managing any investment is work, but it pays better than operating a steam press or delivering newspapers (both jobs which I actually had).

3) BE INTERESTING

Another two-part answer here. First part deals with how you feed your head. It's never been easier to be well-read, or shall we say "well-informed," because with the proliferation of digital media, the onslaught of video and the tsunami of mobile, you don't even have to read anything anymore. That eliminates the curse of ignorance. And don't worry about being "an expert"; it's more important to be curious, to learn a little about a lot. The more you know, the more you'll have to offer, and the more who will want to know you.

Which brings us to #3a, how you package your knowledge and opinions. Don't be afraid to stand out. Dare to be different. Whether it's what you wear (for me, it's an overabundance of jewelry), how you cut your hair, how you walk, speak, stand or sit, do it in a way that spawns inquisitiveness. Be a magnet for others. Complement your inner smarts with an outer shell that invites connection. Then hope that those you attract are as interesting as you!

P.S. As a head start, try impressing someone with the fact that you read this blog post ;)

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