This song is about navigating expectations from society and yourself. The lyrics are below, as is a beautiful cover by my sister:
Trying, failing, falling behind
Treading water and wasting time
I’m scared, I’m scared, I’m terrified
I’ve been given so much and I’ve let it die
Shouldn’t I have accomplished more?
In what domain I’m not quite sure
I’m in the middle of the sea
Without a lighthouse guiding me
Save me, save me, let me breathe
These questions weighing down on me
Am I living up to my potential
Have I done enough to build my brand
Do I want to be influential
Someone known all across the land
What can I do and who can I be
To redeem the gifts I’ve been given
It hurts when I see any stranger succeed
My failures won’t be forgiven
Expectations, wishes, and goals
I’m not Steve Jobs or Woolf or Thoreau
My teacher said I would do great things
I haven’t done anything but these writings
The thirty under thirty lists
Make me feel bad for how I exist
I mourn the passage of each day
A squandered pointless husk of gray
I don’t know what I want
But I want to get there faster
I need to make something that matters
Am I living up to my potential?
Have I done enough to build my brand?
Do I want to be influential,
Someone known all across the land?
And is it enough to just be happy
And if it is can you show me how
Does it have to do with productivity
‘Cause if it doesn’t then I disavow
I came up with the chorus a while ago, and my sister did a cover of it on the ukulele. Here’s a link to the audio:
Since I really liked how her cover of the chorus sounded, it was hard to come up with verses without feeling like they weren’t as good. So I used a technique I heard about where you intentionally write as poorly as you can, in order to remove the fear of failure. What ends up happening is you write as well as you would have otherwise. So that’s the origin of this song. Themes/images come from the book The Defining Decade by Meg Jay, my experiences, The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, Debt by David Graeber, and this quote from Black Boy by Richard Wright: “I felt that I had to go somewhere and do something to redeem my being alive.” I also thought about Billie Eilish’s song “bury a friend” when I made the chorus composed of all questions, since that chorus is also composed of all questions. Not super happy with the title at the moment. It’s kind of a reference to Virginia Woolf’s idea about the “tyranny of the plot,” and I like that it can also be sung in the rhythm of the chorus. But it doesn’t really roll off the tongue, so I think I’ll keep working on it.
Here’s a gallery of my notes drafting it. I wrote the chorus walking around a park making voice notes to myself. I wrote the verses sitting in bed with help from Rhymezone.com.