Shake It Off

How does a song grow on you?

Let us count the ways.

It can seize you with its melody line or it can reel you in via its opening riff. It can wrap itself around you by way of the Last Song Syndrome (LSS) or it can immortalize a pivotal moment in your life. It can sneak up on you through a movie you’re watching or it can make you do a Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten“Oo nga, ano! Matagal ko nang alam yan. Nakalimutan ko lang.” (i.e., “Indeed! I’ve known about that a long time ago. I’ve just forgotten it over time.”)

taylor swift shake it off

The latter was exactly how I eventually discovered Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” to be surprisingly insightful and inevitably infectious. “Shake It Off” is the sixth track in Swift’s latest album 1989. At the outset, I thought there was nothing much to the song except for the amusing YouTube video which my wife showed me. Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, the video shows a heavy set police officer in his 40s driving around while lip-synching and dancing along to “Shake It Off” from start to finish. After catching Swift’s official music video in a local diner, the song intrigued me enough to look up its lyrics. And that was how the song brought me back to the first day I discovered the power and the glory of Habit 1 of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Be proactive.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was written by the late Stephen R. Covey in the same year Taylor Swift was born. For the past 26 years, it has sold 15 million copies and has been translated in 38 languages. To this day, it is considered as one of the best non-fiction business books. Time Magazine cited the book as one of the 25 Most Influential Business Book of all time in 2011.

7 habits

The first 3 habits are what Covey calls the Habits of Private Victory. These are: Be Proactive; Begin with the End in Mind and First Things First. The next 3 habits are categorized as Habits of Public Victory. Among these are: Think Win-Win; Seek First to Understand then to be Understood and Synergize. The last habit Sharpen the Saw is the habit of renewal and sustains all 6 habits. To learn more about each habit, get yourself a copy of this classic business book or look up Franklin-Covey in social media. Here in the Philippines, public seminars on the 7 Habits are facilitated by the Center for Leadership and Change.

Be Proactive is a habit that Covey discovered after reflecting on Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. According to Covey, what differentiates human beings from animals and other living things is the space or gap between stimulus (what happens to you) and response (what you do after the stimulus.) The space or gap between stimulus and response is where the freedom to choose our response lies. When an animal is provoked (negative stimulus), it attacks (negative response.) When you are provoked (negative stimulus), you may choose to attack (negative response) or you may choose to do otherwise and seek to understand the attacker (positive response.) You may choose to report the matter to higher authorities for resolution (positive response) or you may choose to engage in a dialogue after assessing the risk that the attack poses to you (positive response.) In short, there are a variety of responses available to us. Thus, the popular quote: “It is not what happens to you but rather what you do with what happens to you that ultimately spells the difference.”

man's seach for meaning

To sharpen our capacity for developing this habit, Covey introduces two circles. The circle of concern is where we find things that we cannot do anything about even as we endlessly worry about them. Among these are the weather, inflation, aging, dying, and the like. The circle of influence is where we find things we can control and influence such as the food we choose to eat, the thoughts that we dwell on, the clothes we don for the day, how we spend our money and the like. The key, says Covey, is for us to focus on the circle of influence instead of worrying about the circle of concern. If we do this, he promises that the circle of influence will eventually and inevitably grow bigger than the circle of concern. Those who choose to focus on the circle of influence eventually become proactive. In contrast, those who’d rather preoccupy themselves with the circle of concern inevitably become reactive. And this is where the power and the glory of being proactive lies. By focusing on the things we can do something about and ignoring those we cannot do anything about, we act on the things that happen to us. In contrast, those who concern themselves with things they cannot do anything about empower things that happen to them to act on them.

It is precisely in this context that “Shake It Off” offers itself as a creative 21st century take on understanding and appreciating the two circles discovered by Covey. The opening lines of the song focus on stuff that she cannot do anything about, namely, the unkind things that her detractors say behind her back. To wit:

“I stay up too late, got nothing in my brain
That’s what people say mmm, that’s what people say mm
I go on too many dates, but I can’t make ’em stay
At least that’s what people say mmm, that’s what people say mmm
‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
…Heartbreakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake”

To her credit, even as she takes stock of what others have to say about her, Swift  chooses to focus on what she can directly influence: her vocation and career as a songwriter and musician. Even more telling is the fact that wittingly or unwittingly, 2/3 of the song focus on her circle of influence. Just like Covey, Swift is pretty clear as to what she’d rather prioritize in this short life. Hence,

“But I keep cruising, can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music in my body and it’s gonna be alright…
…Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
I’ll never miss a beat, I’m lightning on my feet
And that’s what they don’t see mmm, that’s what they don’t see mmm
I’m dancing on my own (dancing on my own), I’ll make the moves up as I go (moves up as I go)
And that’s what they don’t know mmm, that’s what they don’t know mmm
But I keep cruising, can’t stop, won’t stop grooving
It’s like I got this music in my body saying it’s gonna be alright
Hey, hey, hey, just think while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and dirty, dirty cheats in the world you could have been getting down to this sick beat
My ex-man brought his new girlfriend
She’s like “oh my God”, but I’m just gonna shake it
And to the fella over there with the hella good hair
Won’t you come on over, baby, we can shake, shake, shake”

Not bad for a 26-year old pop icon who is dismissed by some quarters for being shallow. Not bad indeed, especially if you think about how, it took Don Henley, an elder rock statesman several decades  to realize the wisdom behind such a shift in  paradigm.“It took me 42 years to write this song, and 5 minutes to sing it.”  Henley was, of course, referring to  “The Heart of the Matter,” the closing track of his 1989 classic rock album The End of the Innocence. The song pretty much articulates the same theme that Swift tackles albeit from the perspective of moving on by  asking for forgiveness and forgiving oneself. To do otherwise is the height of folly.

“There are people in your life who’ve come and gone
They let you down and hurt your pride
Better put it all behind you cause life goes on
You keep carrying that anger, it’ll eat you up inside”

don henley heart of the matter


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