What advice would you give your younger self?

Ann Pierceall

Alison Henry and Myrna Kane may be separated by about 50 years of age, but the two women share a zest for living and offer some words of wisdom learned through their life experiences.

Both women were among several readers of The State Journal-Register who shared advice they’d offer their younger selves.

Many people have said, “If I only knew then what I know now.” So we asked readers what advice they would give the younger versions of themselves — the wisdom, life lessons and knowledge that they wish they knew back then.

Henry may be only 19 years old, but the Springfield resident has packed more into her young life than some people twice or even three times her age.

She describes having had to grow up too fast. Henry was very young, about 3 or 4 years old, when her mother, Kernelle, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. When she was 13, her father left.

“I pretty much took over,” Henry said.

Henry said young people are in such a hurry to grow up, to have a job, a car, a house. She says all that responsibility comes soon enough.

Henry worked two jobs in high school to help out. She also lost four friends to drug overdoses, events that also shaped her philosophy. She left college to be closer to her mother, whose daily fight with MS is an inspiration.

At 19, Henry has that house and car — and two jobs to help pay for her grown-up life, which she wouldn’t trade for anything as long as she can be near her mother.

So if she could, she would tell the younger Alison to “slow down and enjoy life,” she said. “Live each day to the fullest and always tell your mother you love her, for she is the reason you are here today.”

“You only get one life and one chance to prove yourself; prove that who you are is amazing, and that you’re a strong human being who will never be broken.”

Get moving

Myrna Kane, 71, of Chatham, has lived a good life, but she’s the first to confess that beyond walking for exercise, it wasn’t a real active one.

Her advice to her younger self is this: “Put down that book, girl, and get up off that couch.”

Kane said she was always known as a bookworm, and describes herself as a “couch potato and non-athletic.”

“I was always the last one chosen” for a team in high school, Kane said.

Then came the arrival of her great-grandson Kael McElrath. When Kane found it difficult to get on the floor to play with him, she decided to do something about it.

So at age 70, with the help of a workout program on her husband Ron’s Wii system, she has done activities such as yoga, aerobics, and has even used a Hula Hoop.

“You have like this little personal trainer,” Kane said. “I’ve gone down a size in clothing, and I’m so much more flexible. I really feel good.”

Kane said she wishes she had started her move to a more physical lifestyle earlier. She encourages people to start engaging in physical activity at “any age,” but says high school age is a great place to begin. She believes folks who are physically active tend to be more apt to join clubs, be on teams and have more friends.

“I was kind of a loner. I had a few friends, but I was mostly into my books,” she said. Her husband and children were just the opposite, Kane said, and she noted the camaraderie her loved ones have always had with others.

“I’ve always just been on the sideline and thought, ‘Wow, that’s great.’ I always thought I was clumsy and unable to do that, and I’m not. It was all in my head,” Kane said.

She said her newfound physical activity added a “new dimension to my life.”

“If my ‘younger me’ had known what fun it is to enjoy physical activities, it would have opened up an entire new world to her. Tennis, anyone?”

More life lessons

Here is other advice central Illinois residents would give to their younger selves.

Melissa Wheat of Curran: “One, in particular, would be to keep that yearly appointment with the OB/GYN. Like a lot of women, over the years I fell into a false sense of security that I was healthy and didn’t need to go to the doctor every year. I was wrong. In 2007, I was diagnosed with a stage IV cancer, and now due to the treatment and surgery, I am physically changed and disabled for the rest of my life. Thank God my doctors were able to save my life.

So as I tell my own daughters on a regular basis, as I would tell a younger me, I tell every woman I talk to: Please keep that yearly appointment. It not only will ensure your health, it will save your life.”

Alison Williams of Springfield addressed her younger self through a poem: “F.E.A.R. visited and decided to take up full time residence in my mind. It told me I could not do, say, feel and even experience certain things in life. Subsequently, I missed some opportunities, let some people down (whose forgiveness I request) and failed a few times.

“Time is indeed a great healer …

“Now I, S.O.A.R. because forgiveness exists within. My love of writing sustains me.

“I challenge myself daily to give many hugs and offer words of encouragement to the children and the adults.

“So the fear, even though painful, taught me empathy.”

Holly Wietfeldt of Chatham: She compared life and its challenges to a jigsaw puzzle “made up of numerous irregular shapes (experiences) that ultimately fit together to make a complete picture.

“Often you will plan, but things will take a different turn. Although you might not understand why some things happen, trust in and lean on God, finding strength in believing that, because of his love for you, he has a total, beneficial plan for your life, which will ultimately result in a special, unique picture … just for you.”

Jeff Donohue of Chatham: “Trust your instincts. Don’t be swayed into doing what’s ‘popular’ or ‘politically correct’ or ‘good for your career.’ … Depend on yourself. Your choices will lead you to unexpected places sometimes. … Don’t be part of the faceless mob. Revel in your uniqueness, and if the folks you’re with don’t ‘get’ you, then you’re not with the right people. … Drawing your last breath is not the time to realize ‘I wish I would have done things differently.’”

Edith Taylor of Springfield: “Spend time with the ones you love. We are not promised tomorrow. How I wish I could have those times with loved ones back. …

“Get pre-marital counseling. It helps you iron out problems before they become really big, or it keeps you from making the biggest mistake of your life.

“ … Think before you act or speak. Once you put it out there, you can’t take it back, which leads me to this:

“Take good advice when it’s given. People share their advice because they’ve been there and don’t want to see you make some of the same mistakes they have. We all make mistakes; the important thing is to learn from them.”

Kim Aper of Lincoln: She would have encouraged her younger self to join military service to gain access to “at least a two-year college degree.”

She also said this: “Experience as much of life out there that you can and do follow your dreams because life goes by very fast. You work, fall in love, marry, raise a family and work some more. Not that life at 50 is over, but it’s tough to look back and wonder where the time went.”

Pat Tribbet of Springfield: “I would tell me that I, and the rest of the world, will be amazed with what contact lenses and a gym membership can do. I spent so much time worrying that I wouldn’t fit it in because of the extra weight and the eyeglasses, but I think that helped me to focus on school and being a nice person. I wouldn’t change things, other than adopting healthier habits sooner, but I would like the younger me to not worry so much: I get a great job, my crush notices and marries me — everything works out fine!”