Don’t forget the sunscreen: Life advice: Don’t overreach, but don’t let others kill your dreams, either

Voices of the Clarion

Posted: Sunday, June 04, 2006

So column time has come again.

What to write about. Hmmmm? Well, there is that thorny immigration issue, but you probably need another column about that as much as I need the headache insured from writing about it.

A first Alaska experience, coupled with coverage of a few high school graduations, did inspire me, though. The high school graduations (Skyview and Soldotna high schools, to be exact) allowed me to hear a whole bunch of those “follow your dreams” speeches, which had me thinking about advice. A few days later, I canoed the Swanson River and recalled a not-so-useful bit of such advice, so here goes

We did the Swanson in one day, and the day in question was hot. After about eight hours in the sun, I wanted to remove my sweat-coated shirt, but being a Gen-Y lay-about paddling through a location unsuitable for a stop, I didn’t want to apply sunblock to the areas that would be unprotected if I removed said sweaty shirt. What to do? Recall bad advice.

“If you don’t get burned, you’ll never get tan” the saying went, as spoken by an honest-to-goodness lifeguard.

The recalled justification worked for me. I lost the shirt. Sure enough, I got burned.

That bit of sketchy advice is pretty obvious. Every sunburn is a step closer to skin cancer. Being a smoker, I have other worries, but still — not smart.

Other bits of well-meaning advice, however, are less obvious in their foolhardiness. That “follow your dreams” line fits more squarely into this category.

To the graduates of Skyview, Soldotna, Kenai Central, Nikiski, etc: “follow your dreams” does have its limits.

First: If your dream is world peace, I applaud you. You’re a better person for thinking of it before pop stardom, a winning lottery ticket or a chili fry replicator that runs on sunlight.

Still, take this advice: Give up now. The world is full of haters and hatred, and the feelings are trenched deep and stand long. Unless you have a massive dividend check from Yahweh to cash in, a diet pill that works 100 percent of the time, or your last name is Bush and you know how to work a room, your chances at effecting worldwide change in a peace-wardly direction are approximately zero. Not between nada and zilch or no way and no how — just zero. Give up now. Buy one of those hip T-shirts bearing the slogan “Visualize Whirled Peas” and make inner peace with the fact that the world outside will forever have a dearth of passion for the ideal defined by the homonym of your T-shirt’s third word.

Be good to yourself and those around you. Your chances of success are much better.

For the artists — meaning aspiring painters, writers, musicians, sculptors, filmmakers, etc. — that “starving artist” thing is for real. More than nearly any field, success as an artist is a whim and a prayer affair, and no amount of talent can change the fact that your chances of “making it” are linked to things beyond your control (read: luck). There are things you can do to be in the right place at the right time with the right talent, but the right person to take notice and give you your shot may still be on a bathroom break when you show up.

Instead of success as an artist, think creative success. Find a secondary field that either fulfills a few of your creative needs or find something else you love that allows time to make art on your own, success be damned.

Finally, a word about the basics: dreams of health, wealth, wisdom and happy families: be flexible. You probably don’t know exactly what you want to do. That’s fine. What you do is not what you are anyway. You may find after two years of marine biology study that the nuts and bolts of scientific minutiae or a lifetime of smelling like fish don’t really appeal to you. Fine. Try something else. Most college graduates don’t end up working in the field they major in, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself happy despite a shift in occupations. If you want to practice medicine at 18, but feel content managing a video store at 28, life has treated you well. Contentment is worth more than any pile of money, and an uphappy doctor can only use the money to buy phony versions of contentment in pill form, anyway.

Oh, and one final note: if you’re truly passionate about the dreams you want to follow, ignore everything I just wrote. Follow your dreams. And remember to wear sunscreen.

John Hult is a reporter for the Clarion.

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