You really are free to wear sunscreen

This write up emerges from a recent tradition that I’ve put into place, something that I tend to do as the calendar year closes. I know, it’s a little after that, but we’re still in the first half of January so it’s okay. This is effectively an exercise in self-reflection and a bit of a reminder of what life is meant to be, from the words of those who have been there and done that.

The Tradition

In the last week of December, or sometimes even in the middle of the year, I will pull up my phone and either read or watch the celebrated essay, “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young”. Before you proceed, I strongly suggest you too read the article here (https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/chi-schmich-sunscreen-column-column.html) or watch the spoken word version of it, by Baz Luhrmann.

In fact, wouldn’t matter if you don’t read the rest of this post as long as you’ve read or watched this bit.

Done? Still here? Good.

How I got here

The years of 2005–2009 were glory years of discovering music through VH1. I would have that channel play all day long when I was home alone, or reading or doing chores/homework (is homework also a chore? It is, right?) and a lot of new artists were discovered because we didn’t have the bane of short attention spans or the luxury of on-demand content. (I miss those days.) One night during my summer holidays in maybe 2008, I lay idly reading to the sounds of VH1 Zzz and suddenly felt a change in tempo, in that lyrical music gave way to spoken word and a music video gave way to a supercut of different images and video segments. My curiosity piqued, I paid attention and because at that point I just had to know the artist, I stuck on till I saw the banner towards the end of the song (remember those?). That’s when I got to know that it was the video above.

The moment over, I reflected on some of the words I heard in it and thought to myself that these were interesting sentences and a good beat and left it in a deep recess of my mind, occasionally thinking about it in a bout of TV nostalgia. It wasn’t until years later during college that I realised I could watch it on YouTube and I proceeded to do just that. I also googled the piece to discover that it began as a news column written as a hypothetical class of 1997 by Mary Schmich.

It was then that I paid a lot more attention to the words and, maybe with the few years I’d gained over when I heard it before, realised that I’ve a lot to learn.

The Tradition

I don’t know specifically when I began doing this, perhaps it was when I felt low or just needed some third party neutral advice about life when I was confused, but I came back to the column every now and then. Some time along the way it became an annual event where I read the column and look back at how my own experiences shape the way I interpret these words.

Over time, this tradition brings some amount of comfort to me for reasons I don’t fully understand. I guess it’s because it’s a lot of simple words that make sense. Sense without having to exert a lot of effort.

Here are some of the lines from the column that have helped me in the recent past. These are my interpretations. They’ll probably change when I come back to this in 2022. I’ll probably write a different at the end of this year. But here’s this for now.

Wear 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.

The words speak for themselves. Sunscreen, as I recently learnt on my roadtrip, does wonders and its health benefits cannot be understated.
As for the rest, I’ve learnt to take advice with a spoon of salt, knowing that everything doesn’t apply to apply everyone.

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.

Our lives, with out constant striving to be huge, overnight successes often have us worrying about the minutest details about everything. But worry really is pretty useless because in and of itself it does nothing. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t plan for contingencies, but a life spent worrying is akin to being so so afraid of shadows that the light was never enjoyed.

Sing.

C’mon! It’s fun. And no one’s inherently bad at it, you just need the right company. Singing never fails to evoke joy and is an instant mood uplifter! Do it, honestly. Even when you’ve nothing to do. Especially then I’d say.

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.

This is something whose value I have only just begun to really comprehend. In the kind of corporate lifestyle that most of us lead, we’re often driven to move ahead on the fuel of never having enough or needing to constantly compare oneself with one’s peers and feeling rather left out if one isn’t where everyone else seems to be or have everything else others do. It’s a terrible vicious cycle that moves from jealousy to self-pity to resentment and finally just sadness. All of it can be avoided by understanding that there isn’t even a race. As Morgan Housel reminds us, things are never as good as they seem and they are never as bad as they seem either.

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.

All those LinkenIn posts where folks try to humblebrag about how they are ‘building XYZ’ or leading the country into the next big thing — yeah no, not going to let those allow me to question myself about what I’m doing anymore. It’s nice if folks have been able to figure out what makes them tick, but there’s no rush to bind oneself with one track.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Same as singing. Just do it. There’s never anything bad about it.

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.

I’ve written an entire piece on this sentiment.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you.

This line in specific is a very difficult pill to swallow, but once done, reveals a very deep truth. It’s a matter of privilege and honour to have someone to support oneself, but relying fully on that is a disaster in waiting. To me this is somewhat like putting all of one’s eggs in one basket. I also it’s something like the airline oxygen mask thingy — help yourself first before others so that you’re able to get out too.

Advice is a form of nostalgia.

Life is lived with rose tinted glasses looking back at everything ever and the only way we put that across is through advice. I know it because I do it a lot. What I take away from this line is that advice is a scary thing. It’s cheap to dispense and if incorrect, expensive to deal with. Suffice to say, advice is best taken with a healthy serving of caution especially when taken from unknown sources (yes, insta, tiktok and this post included).

All of this may read like balderdash or some early 2000s viral email content or boomer WhatsApp forward, but really speaking, this piece resonates with me for some reason. I might even make reading this a biannual occasion. Something about it feels right.

Whatever you might or might not take from it, trust me on the sunscreen.

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Tanmay D

Tanmay D

I'm a 29 year old son, brother, friend and colleague who enjoys reading, playing video games and complaining about never having enough time. Read my thoughts!