I’m reasonably confident most adults have asked this question at one time or another. Hell, if you’re anything like me, you may be asking it all the time. For those that never ask, there’s New Year’s Eve. This one point on the calendar, and eventually clock, makes even the most clueless person, stand back and reflect on the passing year. This one perfect point in time, where people look at one another and ask communally Where has the time gone? I’m no exception.
To that point, I’ve been sitting at my desk figuratively flogging myself for not doing… anything this year. All right, that’s an exaggeration. I’ve done stuff but for the life of me nothing jumps out. I’ve come to the conclusion that this must be the danger of working from home. Time passes but there are no external benchmarks, nothing or no one to compare yourself to. Perhaps working from home, or for one self, is the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, though I fear I may not have mastered the esteem part of the pyramid, and just jumped to self-actualization.
So I sit here thinking and wondering if 2014 will be different. Then it happens. A recording of Baz Luhrmann reciting Sunscreen starts to play from my iTunes library. I haven’t heard it in quite some time and I feel like he’s talking to me. Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in. Maybe the universe is sending me a message either way it touches a nerve.
Sunscreen was attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, but actually it was written in 1997 by Mary Schmich, a columnist with the Chicago Tribune, and derived from a speech given by Kofi Annan to MIT graduates. The words are clever, poignant, and most of us can identify with at least parts of it. So for those that have never read it or for those that have, but may have forgotten, here it is. For those that might want to see the original music video go to Sunscreen.
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.
Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.
Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.
Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.
Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.
Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.
Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.
Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.
Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.
Respect your elders.
Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.
Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.
Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
But trust me on the sunscreen.
I don’t know what 2014 will hold but bring it on. I’m ready.