Living through one’s early 20’s is a study in trial and
I say this as a 23-year-old, just over a year out of
college. Since graduation, I’ve had a series of jobs (fits and starts of new
beginnings), apartments (one temporary living arrangement after another), and
romantic regrets. All in all, my early 20’s have been an often beautiful,
sometimes traumatic time rich with experiences had through the lens of my own
By now I’ve come into my sexuality, learned how to say “no”
and “when,” and cultivated a modicum of responsibility that’s absent in my
memories of college. This weekend, I did laundry and cobbled together lease
paperwork, between a housewarming party and polishing the one piece of antique
silver I own, so far.
And while that evolution is marked with progress rather than
perfection, it took a great deal of humiliation and psychosis to steer me
toward a sense of self. I spent many days and nights getting drunk at the
problems in my life, the people who I believed created them, and the sting of
all that resentment lingers today. I get crazy. I talk to myself. Some days, I
feel like my life is going nowhere and the people who once loved me are leaving
me, helpless, behind.
Suffice to say, if I’ve yet come of age, I’m the last person
“Who am I supposed to be now?” is a question I grapple with
a lot. It’s so easy to get fixated on poisoned wells and burned bridges, and to
feel irredeemably saddled with a reputation I wasn’t wise or mature enough to
avert. More accurately, that’s my insecure interpretation of that reputation.
For me, disappointments and failures have felt final at times. Despite having
only the briefest of pasts, picking myself up after taking a spill or turning
around at a dead end felt impossible in the beginning.
But then it kept happening. Today, I feel like a pro at
starting over. Tell me “in 30 days, you need to find an apartment, a job, and a
social circle” and I know exactly how to chip away at each of those
assignments. I’ve learned to do it without pitying myself, or complaining, or
feeling like my life is over before it’s really started. I trust that the
logistics will work out.
Miraculously, I find that each new thing has improved upon
the last, and brought me closer to whatever it is I’m meant to do in my life
and career. Most of my friends have had straighter roads to navigate through
these years, though I know there are many people like me out there. I’m making
it all up as I go along and, at the end of the day, playing it off like I’d
planned the whole thing. Millennials are charged with rebranding ourselves as
we come of age.
Taylor Swift’s emotional resonance has always driven sales
and devotion to her cult of personality. People my age identified with her high
school breakup stories, and awkward growth into adulthood in her more recent
albums. Her latest presentation is refreshing because she communicates what my
friends and I are finding out for ourselves: self-awareness is the silver
Taylor Swift obviously knows exactly how she’s come across,
and the fledgling maturity that informed earlier iterations of Taylor Swift.
She knows how those choices created an identity that, while rooted in truth,
isn’t an altogether fair appraisal of who she is or where she’s going. When
asking “Who am I supposed to be now?” her reaction is clear: “I’m that girl. I’m exactly the girl you
accuse me of being, but I’m so much better and so much more at the same time.”
She refuses to be reduced to who she was at 18, or 20, or
22. This moment of her career is a lesson in getting out from under perceptions
that follow her beyond their expiration dates, while standing by the choices
that shaped that trajectory. Most delightfully, her video for “Blank Space”
blatantly trolls the observers and former partners who would only see her in
that narrow, dismissive way. And she’s very clear about exactly whose loss it
Like another icy blonde of 2014, “Gone Girl”’s Amy Dunne, Swift is challenging her detractors to be a
little bit bigger. And that makes some people very uncomfortable.
I feel the same way. One of the lessons of the last year has
been becoming comfortable with my strengths, and owning my flaws. As Amy
Gardner, my favorite West Wing
character once said, “I have wit, I have charm, I have brains, I have legs that
go all the way down to the ground.” At some point, commencing a new act depends
on embracing one’s immaculate, megalomaniac, damaged, capable self. We go about
the business of looking and feeling better than we ever have. We put forth the
most striking, authentic, fabulous articulation of “ourselves” we can.
Most importantly, today I don’t feel mired in the shame and
uncertainty that once produced fear in all my decisions. I don’t think Taylor
Swift does, either.