9 Life Lessons from a Song About Sunscreen

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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 Luhrmann 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 few months, for the last two decades, 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 on the other side of 40, 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 life 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.

Frowning forehead

“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? Nothing good.

So I stopped doing that, replacing it with 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 all 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.

Do I get it right every time? Not at all, but it’s a lot easier to change direction when you’re already moving.

“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. Nobody does. Follow your dreams, and if they take you 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 done what was expected rather than what made them happy. If that’s you, change it. Now. Trust me, things will never 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…

Dave running in Chiang Mai

“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. The words in it were never really part of a commencement speech, but damn it, they should have been.

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?


Sunscreen image via dimitrisvetsikas1969, frown image via B Rosen

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  1. Ahhhh I love this song. I know I’m only 23 and thus I’m sure I’ll be able to appreciate it more in time–but still! So many good lessons and things to remember. Also, re: worrying–one of my favorite quotes is “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” Great post!

    1. I first heard this on the radio about 3 years ago, very late at night and thought I had personally discovered it. I was having a hard life in 1999 and I moved countries for 4 months over summer, in a new relationship, and somehow managed to totally miss this. Discovering it for myself, alone in my kitchen at 2am, was profound. I love it very much because I still feel like it’s personally mine, that I found it, embraced it, told other people about it. At almost 50 I still love it.

      The race is long, and in the end – only with yourself.

  2. I love this post Dave!! I’ve got goosebumps.
    I was living in London when i first heard this song- way back when. Showing my age too.
    I listened to it over and over again and wrote all the words, and I think, paid attention to the messages.

    It is so fascinating to listen to it again at 35 and to see just how relevant and true these lessons area and to notice how I have actually applied them in my life.
    I love the examples here and the lessons you took and found myself nodding the whole way through it.

    thank you for the big inspirational boost today. My fave post I’ve read in awhile

  3. I remember the first time I heard this song as well. I listened to it like 3 or 4 times in a row. Very inspiring. Some other songs That I find inspiring are.

    Lemon Jelly – Ramblin’ man
    The Enemy – Away from here
    Modest Mouse – The world at large
    The Smashing Pumpkins – Today

  4. I remember this song and still love to listen to it. It caused me to pause and reflect when it first came out and I love that it has the ability to do just that even now.

    Something about music, as you say Dave, to get you thinking, motivated, inspired, reflective, taking action and more.

    The power of words with meaning combined with melody that touches your soul can’t be denied. I had a grown up moment between 2-4am when I couldn’t sleep and did a rare thing of worrying about my future and that of my loved ones.

    Luckily this morning I woke up a kid again knowing you need to live in the now and enjoy today – the present…yes you’ve heard it before because it’s a gift.

  5. I remember this song too, but now at 43 it really does all make a lot more sense. Funny thing is it took me a long time to realise that I was wasting life just by biding time in a dead end marriage and feeling down every minute. In 2005 I left my marriage, and changed my life. In 2008 I moved to the UK (from NZ) with my three kids, dog, cat and fifty boxes of books to live with a man I’d fallen in love with a year earlier, in Paris. You’re never too old to take a different route, and to change your life. Great post, thanks for reminding me of that fact.

    1. That’s a great story Vix … as heartbreaking as it must have been at the time. Proof if we ever needed it that, as you say, you’re never too old to change your life!

  6. Love this – I’m the same age and was also finishing college when I first heard it but really didn’t take it to heart. Reading some of the highlights again now is a great reminder – and refreshing to see I’ve actually followed some of the advice! Although I definitely still need to work on others – especiially the point about understanding that friends come and go – I often tend to hold on too long.

    P.s. We’re not old 🙂

    1. Thanks Katie! And nope, we’re not old … I’ve thought for a long time that age should be judged by actions, not chronology. 🙂

  7. Wow, all those little life lessons contained in one song about sunscreen?! Great post. I am 31 now, as of two days ago, and I often laugh at how much I didn’t have a clue at 22, and some days, still don’t! Although, I do think I finally have a handle on the suncreen part. I go up by an SPF of 2 every few years. At 22, I thought SPF of 2 would suffice……I shudder to think of it now!

  8. And for us even older than Dave… I love this. I send it to people who are in need of well ‘sunscreen’ will put it on my play list for my trip?

  9. I still have the cassette tape of this song in my car! It’s been a favorite to listen to since it came out and I am so happy to read about how it’s been a key song in your life as well! Keep up the great articles – I love your style 🙂

    1. I don’t think I ever had the cassette tape … I can’t even remember what format it was! Thanks for the kind words, by the way 🙂

  10. I first heard it when listening to a random selection from the “Now that’s what I call music” albums ….I had started my travels then, but on so many occasions, I still reference it to youngsters today … but stony ground comes to mind.
    Great blog … says it all, Russ.

  11. I’m struggling with getting older. I’m having trouble with it mainly because there aren’t anymore good surprises. When I was younger, I always tried to make time to travel. It was so much fun going away with my girlfriends. We always went to Walt Disney World! No children, just us single girls. It was something to look forward to. Then, some got married. We drifted away. I really truly miss those days. I find myself getting depressed. I remembered this song and I wanted to remember all the words. I believe I did everything in that song. I guess I’m just “stuck”. Nobody I know remembers that song. And the ones I read it too, just don’t get it. Thank you for letting me say my piece.