Does wisdom really come with age? Lillie Rohan asked six New Zealand high achievers to write a letter to their 25-year-old self. Today, former Prime Minister Sir John Key.
Recently, I was sitting at the kitchen bench working when my wife, Bronagh, shouted out, "Listen to this," and proceeded to read out a news article.
"Elderly woman dies in freak accident in France," the headline read.
To me, the story wasn't remarkable because of the accident, rather it was the definition of "elderly". The woman was only 60.
"Hell," I thought. "Is that elderly?" I pondered that because this year I turned 60 and I don't feel old and hope I don't act old, except to my two children who, ever since they were at primary school – in fact, particularly when they were at primary school – have thought their parents were old and embarrassing. Unfortunately for my primary school-aged kids, my opportunities to embarrass them had scarcely even begun. Much worse was to come.
Anyway, I chalked the news article up as another reason to be grateful I don't live in France.
However, for some people, turning 60 isn't simply another marker in the passage of life or an opportunity to celebrate being a step closer to a well-deserved retirement. Instead, for some, it's a time of anxiety and even sorrow.
They are the ones who think that their best years are behind them and all that remains is to mark time.
That's not me.
I feel not too dissimilar to when I was 25, looking ahead with huge expectation and a sense of determination. I felt excited. Life was intoxicating. There was so much to do and so many things to be part of.
So, as I pen this letter to that fresh-faced young man, it won't be tinged with regret for what might have been, or with remorse for poor choices – though there were a few. Rather, it will be with encouragement and enthusiasm to seek out opportunities and to believe my mother when she told me that you get out of life what you put into it.
I will encourage my youthful self to absorb some useful life mantras: that there is no substitute for hard work; that life is precious; and that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. However, on the latter point, I won't spoil the surprise for my younger self by telling him just how much his name will become associated with tax cuts for New Zealand families.
Instead, I'd say: "First and foremost, remember that while your university education at the wonderful Canterbury University is a good starting point, it is just that; the start. Life will change rapidly as technology, artificial intelligence and new scientific solutions are found.
To fill your life and enjoy it, you will need to be constantly learning.
"You will need to be open-minded, flexible and respectful of others, even those with whom you do not, and never will, agree.
"Your mum will have a point when she says, 'Money doesn't bring happiness.' Yet you too will have a point when you counter, 'But it sure as hell helps.' Money for yourself and your family will give you confidence, choices and opportunities to explore and experience the world.
"Pursue your desire to serve the public. Our country, city and communities need people who have the skills, passion and vision to drive change, find better ways of doing things and who can stare down critics because standing for something is so much more powerful than standing for nothing. Being in the game is so much more exciting and empowering than being a spectator.
"Remember your work/life balance. All work and no play makes Jack (literally, John) a dull boy. In a world of fast food and Uber Eats, you may become a slightly chubby one. Have fun, play some sport, and start golf younger so there's a half-chance you one day get a hole-in-one.
"Marry Bronagh. She will be just as she seems to you now: smart, funny, balanced, objective and, most of all, loyal.
"When you have children, hug them every chance you get. They are precious. Never forget that, even when they don't do what you hoped they would, or when they instead do what you hoped they wouldn't. It will be a blessing to have them, and a privilege and pleasure to watch them grow into the adults they will become.
"Never forget to laugh. Take life, your job and your responsibilities seriously, but not yourself.
"Every self-help book, every motivational speech, every piece of sage advice from a trusted friend or colleague helps but none of it will replace the greatest advice, which is to trust your own instincts.
"Most of us know the difference between right and wrong, but none of us is perfect. Humans are complex but somewhere in everyone's heart is a moral compass that tells you, sometimes against all odds and in the face of many saying the opposite, which path to take. What you believe is possible is a much better indicator than a whole lot of people saying what is not.
"Finally, young John, enjoy yourself. It's going to work out and along the way you will meet some remarkable people and make lifelong friends. You'll cry sometimes, because the only way to avoid grief is never to love at all, and that would be a shallow and inhibited life.
"I promise that you will sometimes laugh so hard your sides hurt and you will get endless loyalty and support from colleagues, staff, family and friends who will walk alongside you once they see where you're going.
"One day you will play golf with presidents and dine with royalty. Never pretend to be who you are not. Be who you are in public, as well as in private.
"Be brave, be loyal and if you should ever get the chance to try to change the flag, vote for the fern!"
• Sir John Key was the 38th prime minister of New Zealand and is now chairman of ANZ New Zealand.