I was riding in my car one day to work in 1999, when a “song” came on the radio. It was not really a song. It was more like a speech with music in the background. The song was known as The Sunscreen Song. I did not get to listen to the first of this song because it was already playing before I realized what it was actually saying. After I got off work that day, I heard this song again and proceeding to record it so that I could ingest it more.
I heard this song was a commencement speech, that a writer named, Kurt Vonnegut, delivered to MIT in 1997. This was erroneous because Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, delivered the commencement speech that year. It was also erroneous because Kurt Vonnegut never delivered this speech at all. This “speech” was not even a speech. It was an article in the Chicago Tribune written by a lady named, Mary Schmich. The title of the article was Advice, like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young. (This is a link to the original article). It was published in 1997, but the song came out in 1999. If you read the article it would be addressed to the class of 1997. However, in the song, the wise advice is presented to the class or 1999.
This song, or article if you will, is chocked full of healthy advice for the young person and probably everyone else as well. I took this advice to heart and the next year I applied to graduate school to obtain a doctorate of psychology. I also took most of the other advice to heart and just today, replayed the song and read the words to make sure I am keeping the promise I made to myself 14 years ago. I think I have. This article is going to tell you what can be learned from this song. The lessons that all of us should learn as we walk through the jungle of life. You should listen to the You Tube video of this song first. Then you should use the information within to apply it to your own life. Then you should go back and relisten to the words of the song and gain a deeper understanding of yourself.
This article is not intended to be a review of Mrs. Schmich’s article. I could never do it justice of present it as well as she has in its original state. My purpose is for you to think about your own life. This article is intended to help you understand the song in your own terms by relating it to psychological principles that I would use every day in therapy or coach with clients wanting to improve their station in life.
Lessons from the Song
The premise of her article was to provide information to those going out into the world after graduation. I believe life provides us with education and so this song can be played at any time in our life and let us graduate to the next phase of our life.
The author stated in the beginning and then again at the end, the only advice she can give that
I tell people in therapy or coaching, that we are not able to make all the mistake in life ourselves, so we must learn from the mistakes of others. They are cheaper that way. The only price we pay for learning from the mistakes of others is the few seconds or minutes it takes to read, observe, or communicate about those mistakes.
Mrs. Schmich’s second advice, after wear sunscreen is to enjoy your youth because it cannot ever be retrieved and in 20 years you will want to know what you are learning right now. In therapy and coaching, we talk about where to do you want to be in 5, 10, or 20 years from now. This is how we set goals. In coaching, I have people write their eulogy of how it would be if they were to die tomorrow. Then I ask them to write their eulogy about how it will be if they died 20 years from now. This tells me where they want to be.
She gives the next advice to not worry about the future. This seems to contradict what I just said, but not really. I do not want them to worry about the future; I want them to embrace the future by seizing the day.
She says to do one thing every day that scares you. Right after that she says “sing.” I am going to say from a psychological standpoint, she probably does or did fear singing. I agree with her put it out there and let the world be the judge, but you be the jury. They might say you cannot sing, but you can say I am not going to punish myself for it. I am going to be found “not guilty,” which does not mean innocent.
Next advice to the fictitious graduate is to not play games with people’s hearts and don’t let them play games with yours. Love those that love you. Let go of those that cannot find a small place in their heart for you.
Her next single word advice is to floss. She leaves this to the reader to interpret as they may. Most people will take this to mean the teeth hygiene. It could also mean to get between things to find the meat that may be hidden there and causing you pain now or in the future. Get it out.
Avoid jealousy is the next words of wisdom. Don’t try to keep up with the Jones’. The funny thing about the “Rat Race” is even if you win, you are still a Rat. In the end the only person you will or should be compared to is you. Where you were and where you made it to.
Remember the good things people say about you and forget the bad. Mary says she has still not mastered this. Keep the things that are important and make you feel good, like old love letters. Throw away the things that are of no importance. Get rid of the clutter, but keep the love.
Stretching is a good piece of advice for those that are in an exercise program, but isn’t life an exercise? Shouldn’t we stretch ourselves to achieve more?
Don’t feel guilty, she says, for not knowing what you want to do. I think she is meaning not to get yourself all stressed out about the future, about the obstacles, and about what everyone else, including you expects from you. Allow yourself to have the time to make decisions. Have goals, but have goals that are able to be changes as needed when things come up.
Mary says to take Calcium and take care of your knees. I think she is saying take care of your body. It is the only one you have. She says to enjoy your body. Don’t worry about all the bad parts, focus on the good parts. People that focus on the bad parts of their body are either depressed or on their way to depression.
Some people get married early and some never get married. Some have children and some don’t. Some will do things with their lives that do not seem to be the way everyone does it, but that does not mean it is wrong.
Dance, she says. Have fun and give it a whirl. Dancing can be fun by yourself, but it is great with someone else. Life’s a Dance as the song by John Michael Montgomery says.
Read the directions even if you don’t need them. Know the rules even if they don’t apply to you because you don’t need those rules because you don’t have the bad morals to break them. Don’t read what other people think is beautiful. You are beautiful in your own way. It does not take someone else opinion to classify beauty. If you do take it, you will find you are ugly according to someone in the world’s opinion.
Honor and get to know your parents. They are on the road you will be taking someday, even if you think you are different, you are more the same than different. Get along with your brother and sisters; because they are the only people who can tell others what it was even close to be like to be you. They are the ones that will help you bury your parents, and they are the ones most likely to be there when you need them.
Make friend and work hard to keep the best friends. Understand that as you and they grow, you may grow apart. This does not mean they are not still good people, but you are different. I have no close friends that I had in kindergarten. I have one friend that has been my friend since about 5 grade and he is closer to my heart than any brother could be. He is part of my family even though not one drop of blood is the same. Through elementary school, junior high, high school, college, graduate school, having kids, getting married, experiencing death, he has been right there. I do love you Philip. You are my brother no matter what.
Experience new places, but do not let them change you for the worse. Take the experiences you have and find the middle ground. Be you, not matter where that “you” happens to be at.
Accept that things change. You will too. Your parent did, your children will. You did and will. The people who are coming back down the road you are traveling are the people to ask for advice. The people behind you on the road of life are your responsibility. You should provide them with the accurate information.
She ends with trusting her on the sunscreen. I have done most of what she is saying since my
Take care of yourself and others. Make today and everyday a great day. But trust me on the sunscreen.
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