The Sunscreen Song is thought provoking, I really like it. I first heard this song at a time when I was slightly ticked off at the universe in general, not God, just the universe, for my utter failure to become an air force pilot. I quite wrongly felt that life the universe and everything owed me a job.
A journalist wrote the Sunscreen Song when she had a deadline to write a few hundred words by the end of the afternoon and, by a strange coincidence, happened to see some teenagers going to their senior prom and wondered, if she was asked, what she advice she could offer. The result was a down-to-earth list of random pearls from her “own meandering experience” that, to me, seemed to put a lot of life’s complexities into some kind of order. It did this by roughly explaining that there actually is no order. The song has a real life honesty that extinguished the mad rush of the 1980’s that seemed to constantly call on people to manically Do It!, Win!, Go! and other overly positive and irritating slogans – the type of unrealistic, delusional rhetoric that motivated Olympic athlete Gabriela Andersen-Schiess to stagger to the finish line after running a marathon even though she suffered a stroke. It was this wild 1980’s positive advice stuff that motivated me to leave a fairly good job that had reasonable prospects for a future, to go back to school and try to become an air force pilot. My optimism was fuelled by the prevailing aforementioned ridiculous advice that flourished during the eighties, that stated with the air of some authority, that if you really tried and always had a clear direction and always had a chipper smile on your face then by golly goodness you will succeed. Always. I studied all the right subjects, I even passed most of them. Then the Australian air force, in a moment of amazing generosity, granted me an interview, a psychological test and an aptitude test which I promptly failed. In one afternoon my plan for a fun-filled exciting career as a fighter pilot was gone. There was no plan B. All that good advice from the 1980’s never mentioned the fact that a lot of jobs in the military have age limits and 26 years old is too late to become a soldier – even if it is for the second time. This is where the real advice of The Sunscreen Song made sense. It said, inter alia, that your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s. I was never in a position to make a choice about my career, but really who is?
One day in grade three, the teacher asked the students what job we wanted when we grew up. Everyone in that classroom wanted to be either a doctor, a policeman or an astronaut. So who was going to be an accountant or a teacher? In my class, all the boys wanted to be astronauts. I wondered what would NASA do with fifteen more astronauts – they only needed seven astronauts for the entire mercury project. That night I asked my dad what he used to say he wanted to be when he was a kid, before life started changing things for him. He said that he wanted to be a diesel mechanic. He became a diesel mechanic.
So, there I was standing outside the air force recruiting centre with no future as a jet pilot when I decided to go to university. I was fairly interested in computers so I thought that it would be a relatively simple task to complete four years of university to study electrical engineering. At the time I had every confidence in myself that I would know what to do. I had done fairly well at high school so I figured that the university lecturers would tell me and every other student exactly what we needed to know and I would, after four years of classes, a few assignments and then a some exams, have a neat little set of initials to put at the end of my name. Not so. QED.
A few years later, after I had either, depending on your belief system, lucked into or been blessed with a good job with the nation’s telephone company as, of all things, a radio surveyor, I was thinking about the Sunscreen Song from 1997 and so I wrote my own version.
This is what I thought about life in 2002:
My own 'Sunscreen Song' 2002.
Wait and think when given a task, a plan will form in a few minutes.
Speak clearly, speak loud, tell the truth. Don't make anything up even if you're sure it will happen. Report your achievements, not your plans. Your 'to do' list is not an historical record.
Be honest, to God, to your family, your employer, to yourself. You have certain human rights. Do not allow yourself to be exploited unfairly. It is not being humble.
Read the scriptures every day. You will discover a little more each time.
Pray every night on your knees, it will help you stay grateful.
Pray every morning on your knees, it will help you stay confident.
Let your kids live a happy life. They need time with you more than products. Let them speak to you, listen to their stories, get to know their view of the world. You do not have to prove yourself to them, they know all too well that you are only human.
Enjoy it when your kids play. Boys will play rough and get hurt, let them. It's a tiny model of life. Compliment Hugo on all his mighty accomplishments. He is doing great.
Compliment Alex on all his mighty accomplishments. He is doing great. They need extra attention while they grow into men. Build them up on true principles.
Compliment Rachel Ruby on all her mighty accomplishments. She is doing great. Listen to all her great stories. Get to know Rachel Ruby to the extent that you can answer questions about her personal life.
Your kids will remember what you say - think carefully before shooting your stupid mouth off.
It is better to remain silent. You will never have to explain, defend or retract your silence.
You will never be ridiculed, embarrassed or accused because of your silence.
Listen to your inner self, when in doubt, don't speak at all. By your own experience, this should be most of the time.
Act for yourself, do not be acted upon. Drive yourself towards the right. Disregard all of societies foolish, confining conventions & do what is right.
You do not need permission. Act for yourself after serious thought.
Keep your cool. Everything that happens to you or around you is an opportunity to practice thinking clearly under pressure.
Be generous with your time & talents. You will only waste them on something selfish.
Do not assume that anyone is your friend.
Sleep is more important than entertainment.
Time with your kids is more important than sleep.
Beware of pride. Yes you are special, but not that special.
TED talks have an artist who did something similar and made his own list of times when he was happy and related those experiences to his love of design. His list looks like this:
References: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriela_Andersen-Schiess http://101olympians.blogspot.com/2008/08/gaby-andersen-scheiss-staggering-into.html
Chicago Tribune on June 1, 1997 entitled "ADVICE, LIKE YOUTH, PROBABLY JUST WASTED ON THE YOUNG" by staff writer Mary Schmich. Some versions have an introduction saying that it is for the class of ’97 others say the class of ’99 – either way, I don’t remember the year that I first heard this.
Photo credits - Hugo took these pictures of me in two different aeroplanes - one in Amberly in Australia and the other in a Jaguar in France.