Music is a powerful thing.
It can make us deliriously happy and terribly sad. It forces us to snap our fingers, tap our feet and dance until we can’t stand up. It soothes the soul and starts revolutions.
Sometimes it can even inspire us to live a better life.
I first heard this quirky song by Baz Lurhmann when it first came out just as I was finishing college. In 1998. Yes, that makes me old. The urban legend doing the rounds was that the lyrics came from a graduation speech at MIT. That seemed more than a little timely, so I chose to ignore the fact that the real source was an article in the Chicago Tribune…
I must have listened to it a hundred times in the first few weeks. I couldn’t get enough of it. And every month or two, for the last thirteen years, I’ve dug it out and listened to it again.
When I first heard it I was 22 years old and didn’t have a clue. Back then it served purely as inspiration. Now that I’m 35 I still don’t have a clue, but these days it serves equally as a reminder of what matters – and what doesn’t – in my life. For instance…
“Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth”
That’s a big one. You’ll probably never be as fit, active, healthy or attractive as you are in your twenties and early thirties, so make the most of it. Too many people waste what could be the best years of their life sitting on the sofa watching the world pass them by. Don’t just exist – get out there and live. Find out what you’re capable of. It’ll be a hell of a lot more than you think. Be amazing now, because
“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”
I’m fortunately not doing that yet, but I know people who are – and it’s not pretty. The passage of time is the one thing that none of us can slow down. Sure, you can put off doing something wonderful until next month, next year, next decade. You can put off whatever you like. But this isn’t a video game. You don’t get to go back and start over if you screw it up the first time.
“Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours”
One of the hardest – and best – decisions I ever made was to actively stop spending time with people who weren’t making my life better. It wasn’t easy to do. At times it was downright lonely. In the end, though, it was totally worth it – and now surrounding myself with people that lift me up rather than push me down has made all the difference in the world. If you’re surrounded by negativity in your own life, maybe it’s time to do the same.
“Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum”
Worrying about the future is probably the most useless thing I’ve ever done – and I used to do it a lot. All it did was stress me out, and for what? So I just stopped doing it, and started taking decisive action instead.
Hate my job? Quit. Want to live somewhere else? Buy a ticket and go. Dissatisfied with my life? Change it. I still feel the fear, but I don’t spend my energy worrying about it. Instead I back myself to make the right decision and expend the energy I would have spent worrying on making it work instead.
“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.”
Of all the lines in this song, this one that matters to me the most. It’s fine not to know what you want to be when you grow up. It’s fine at 15. It’s fine at 35. It’s perfectly fine at 60 as well. You don’t need to have it all figured out right now. You never do. Follow your dreams. If they go in a different direction to where you first thought, follow them there instead.
Some of the most miserable people I’ve ever met are those who for decades have slavishly done what was expected rather than what made them happy. If that’s you, change it. Now. Trust me, things will not get any better if you don’t.
“Be nice to your siblings; they are the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.”
They really are. Thank you guys, from the bottom of my heart…
“Enjoy your body, use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.”
I spent most of my twenties hating the body I had, until I realised that like every other instrument it needed tuning. A lot of tuning. So I bought a pair of running shoes and did something about it. A simple statement that belies many hundreds of painful hours. I finally realised that I would never stop being afraid of what other people thought of me until I had stopped being afraid of what I thought of myself.
“Understand that friends come and go,but for the precious few you should hold on.”
This one is really tough. I struggle with it now, and I probably always will. I hate saying goodbye. I hate meeting incredible people, sharing a moment in space and time with them, and then moving on. Sadly though, it’s reality. Some friends are only meant to be in your life for a short period. A few will be there until the day you die. I’m getting better at figuring out which ones are which.
Well at least I’ve got that one sorted.
I could go on for days. There’s wisdom in every line of this song, and it applies to us all. These words were never really part of a commencement speech. But they should have been.
The message matters. Take the time to listen to it.
Oh, and about the sunscreen? Yeah, that’s one lesson I haven’t quite learned yet. I’m working on it…
Do you have a song that inspires you in the same way?
[Sun image via lrargerich, frown image via B Rosen]