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I remember a sloppy, disheveled man who worked near my office many years ago. I would frequently see him in the morning, but also occasionally in the afternoon— often enough that I observed this to be his everyday look, rather than a rarity. I would estimate that he was in his 50s. Had he just combed his hair, ironed his shirt, straightened his tie and polished his shoes, I believed, he would have looked quite distinguished.

At that time, my thoughts about him were: “It’s sad to see this man looking so messy and tired every day—almost like life has him beaten. What happened to him? No matter what, I don’t want to become like this man someday.”

Now, years later, I believe that I understand that same man far better than I ever could have back then—and I certainly have more empathy as to why he may have had that appearance. After all, life is tough, and years of work and the stress that comes with it has a way of taking a toll.

From my frame of reference back then, however, he was old, I was young; he was the past, and I was the future. That’s a rather harsh way of viewing things—and I can only blame it on youth and inexperience.

Therefore, some advice I would give to myself of yesteryear: Don’t worry so much about appearance. It’s far more important to worry about the things that truly matter, such as building knowledge, integrity and wisdom. An expensive suit without skills and knowledge is just an empty suit.

I would further tell my younger self to pick a job that you like, rather than settling for one that you don’t. In that way, it will be easier for that job to develop into a career. And the quicker you find a career, the happier you’ll be and, most likely, the more successful you’ll be. And the most important advice I would give to my younger self is to stay close with your earliest friends from childhood. They knew you at a time when you were innocent, and you will never have more honest friends than that.

The “me” of yesteryear believed that it was necessary to conform. If “he” were here now and could speak to the “me” of today, what would he say? He would most likely say something like, “I wish I knew it was all going to work out. It would have spared me a lot of needless anxiety. I thought I needed to be perfect to succeed. Now I know that is false. And I’m much happier for it.”

Sometimes I wonder where that sloppy, tired-looking man is today. Although I’ll likely never know, I hope that he’s alive and well and has found a peaceful retirement. From my perspective then, he looked like he earned it. And from my perspective now, I know he’s earned it!

Rob Wardlaw is the associate publisher of Gulfshore Business. Contact him at robw@gulfshorebusiness.com.

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