From the outside, Taylor Swift – an 11-time Grammy Award winner with 55.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify – seems accustomed to success.
But at New York University’s commencement ceremony on Wednesday, the 32-year-old singer-songwriter told graduates that her accolades are really a result of something else: moments of rejection. ”The times I was told ‘no’ or wasn’t included, wasn’t chosen, didn’t win, didn’t make the cut – looking back, it really feels like those moments were as important, if not more crucial, than the moments I was told ‘yes,'” Swift said.
Swift said those dismal moments – in both her personal and professional life – made her feel “hopelessly lonely” growing up, starting at a very young age. As a kid, she said, she’d internally simmer after not getting invited to sleepovers. She recalled connecting with music executives at age 13, and being told that “only 35-year-old housewives listen to country music.”
Her responses to those moments were telling. Alone in her room, she said, she’d write songs “that would get me a ticket somewhere else.” She posted songs on MySpace and connected with other teenage country fans online.
Working on her music and herself – instead of dwelling on being told “no” – paid off. The development deal she signed at age 13 led to a songwriting contract a year later. By age 15, she had a recording contract, and she released her first studio album in 2006 at age 16. Her follow-up album “Fearless” won four Grammys, including album of the year, in 2010.
Yet the spotlight brought even more pressure, forcing Swift to feel like she had to live her life “though the lens of perfectionism.” Her advice to the class of 2022: Learn to coexist with those cringe-inducing experiences.
“You will inevitably misspeak, trust the wrong person, underreact, overreact, hurt the people who didn’t deserve it,” she said. “[You will] let the guilt eat at you until you hit rock bottom, finally address the pain you caused, try to do better next time, rinse, repeat.”
Navigating those missteps and rejection, Swift said, can prepare you to “chart your own path.”
“My experience has been that my mistakes led to the best things in my life,” she said. “And being embarrassed when you mess up? It’s part of the human experience. Getting back up, dusting yourself off and seeing who still wants to hang out with you afterward and laugh about it, that’s a gift.”