What a Taylor Swift lyric taught me about adulthood

By my senior year of college I had emotionally checked out. A commuter to Fordham University and resident of nearby Yonkers, I dutifully attended my classes and then left campus immediately, preferring to spend my down time on other non-academic pursuits. When graduation crept closer I felt the first flutterings of freedom—and a healthy apprehension of the “real world.” I bought a new pair of shoes, curled my hair for the outdoor commencement ceremony, hugged my parents and sisters on the massive Bronx campus, and finally felt myself shaking off my college identity. I had done it. I was an Adult.

I was also unemployed and living in my hometown like I’d done all through college, languishing in comfort but nursing a nagging sense of instability. Having never moved out for school, I didn’t have the sense of “coming back home” from college. Rather, I felt like my life was one unbroken thread, constantly being pulled and stretched out, never forming a pattern, never weaving into a tapestry. I stood at the precipice of the rest of my life, but all I felt was stagnation and immobility.

Within the year after college I landed a couple freelance writing jobs and saw some success as a blogger, and I still felt like I’d just graduated. I told people who asked about my life that I was a recent graduate, looking for a full-time job, writing for the internet, running a small-scale blog. I didn’t realize a year had passed without a change, without even realizing I was on a self-imposed hiatus from life. Unused to self-induced change, my mentality when moving from college to post-grad life was passive: I expected structure in the form of two semesters and a summer break, or some kind of equivalent. I was still waiting for a professor of sorts to tell me when things were due. And in the meantime, I waited tables and wrote, and came home every night to my same old room. For a year I’d put my life on hold waiting for it to start, revving up the engine but never taking the car out on the wide road.

About a year after graduation, unclear about the state of my life, I sat in my car at a red light at an intersection in my town that I’d been crossing since I was a child. I had Taylor Swift on shuffle, when a song from her album Red came one: “State of Grace.”  While I was sitting in the car, I started paying attention to the lyrics more than I had in the past. “I’m walking fast through the traffic lights,” Swift crooned. “Busy streets and busy lives and all we know is touch and go.” 

As I sat there staring at the red light in the dusk gloom I suddenly had the realization that had eluded me for over a year: This is my life. It hasn’t been on hold. This is it. The same old streets, the same waitressing position I’ve held since I was 13, the same stoplights I’d looked at since I began driving at sixteen and shepherded my friends to and from movie theatres and shopping centers with a teenager’s recklessness. College had come and gone, all four years in a raucous blur, and here I was: a post-grad, living a real life and not even realizing it, because I had unconsciously suspended my life waiting for some external force to act upon it.

Taylor’s hope-filled lyrics and sweeping music extolling her feeling of being alive on “busy streets” with “busy lives” made me realize I could relate to neither of those sentiments. I hadn’t started my life; rather, it had started without me. And I didn’t even realize it. I think that the blessings I had—a happy home life and a steady job—kept me from stepping out of my comfort zone and doing the things that scared me, like finally pursuing my dream of being a writer and living in New York.

Not right away, but slowly, I set things in motion to change my life. I slowly lifted myself out of this idea that something was going to happen, and that all I had to do was wait for it. Well, I’d been waiting for a year without truly grasping the concept that good things aren’t going to just fall into my path. I realized that no one was going to tell me what to do, not even a boss, because of my status as freelancer. No professor existed to set deadlines, no structure to break up the year into sections, no one caring if I failed or never even tried. It was all up to me. That was the moment I truly felt like an adult and honestly, it scared the wits out of me.

Fear played a large role in my post-grad life. Comfortable living at home and working part-time and afraid to make major changes, I suspended activity. It took a year to wake me up, and a well-timed Taylor Swift lyric. That song, “State of Grace,” is a love song, but for the effect it had on me, it may as well have been about post-grad life. Swift croons, “This is the golden age of something good and right and real,” and not for the first time, I felt inspired by her words to shake off the fear and finally start taking charge of my life, and usher in this fabulous golden age I can make for myself. Thanks, T. Swift.

featured image via.

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