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How Taylor Swift's "Anti-Hero" Song Teaches Us to Overcome Limitations and Labels

A superhero with her face covered by a Reflect AI emoji

When we need motivation, music can be just the thing to give us a boost — during workouts or even in the workplace. It’s hard not to bounce along to Pharrell Williams' "Happy,” or to feel anything but empowered by Katy Perry's "Roar." For teamwork, Queen’s "We Are the Champions" has a distinctively affirmative message. And many sports teams have used Journey’s "Don't Stop Believin’” as an anthem/soundtrack for perseverance — for players and fans.

Lyrics can speak to us in ways that ordinary words don’t, tickling our sensitivities and leading to introspection that can bring about change. Taylor Swift’s hit song “Anti-Hero,” has some surprising insights about the importance of self-awareness and the dangers of labeling people. Let’s take a look at the chorus to see what we can learn.

It's me, hi, I'm the problem, it's me

At tea time, everybody agrees

I'll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror

It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero

It’s easy to define a hero — someone with courage or extraordinary achievements, like a fictional Marvel comics superhero, a real-life firefighter, a blood donor with a rare and life-saving antibody, or even a tech innovator.

What’s an anti-hero and what role does an anti-hero play at the office? Anti-heroes may not have super powers, and often have flawed, darker sides, but still manage to triumph. Some of the working world’s most notable anti-heroes are nonconforming mavericks who followed their own paths: Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs; lifestyle guru Martha Stewart; and Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and co-founder of Tesla, to name a few.

Swift's a music superstar, but the song suggests that while she’s proud of her accomplishments, she’s also fearful she’s not living up to the expectations of others. She finds it hard to acknowledge her flaws, and while flaws can make us relate to one another, they can also lead to destructive paths. Does she, or doesn’t she deserve her success? That’s a question she asks herself.

When we worry that we don’t belong, or don’t fit in — to a team, to a workplace culture — we can feel like imposters. That can lead to self-deprecating language, which can unintentionally undermine our self-worth and confidence. If others lack confidence in us, it could result in the use of belittling language to describe or unfairly label us. And when people are pigeonholed on the basis of arbitrary characteristics like age, gender, or personality traits, it can spiral into labels like "difficult," "lazy," or "unreliable." That can further affect how teams interact with people who are labeled, and even hinder their career growth and advancement.

Swift’s song suggests that engaging in self-awareness and acknowledging our own flaws and weaknesses is a way of overcoming our doubts and regaining self-worth.

How can we overcome limitations and labels in real life?

At Reflect, we’ve created an AI communication coach that works in a constructive way to identify and combat gendered, ageist, sexist, racist, and ableist language that can undermine or diminish individuals and their contributions. It can identify different aspects of an individual’s written and video communication, such as empathy, positivity, and confidence. Reflect AI can help users understand their strengths and weaknesses as well as help them break free from the limitations of labels and stereotypes.

When we ran Swift’s chorus through our Reflect communication coach, it came back with this prompt:

A Reflect AI reaction emoji wearing sunglasses with the message "believe in yourself"

By communicating in a way that shows our strength and confidence, we can overcome our doubts — and become the heroes of our own stories.

Carolyne Zinko is Alphy’s Editorial Director.

Reflect by Alphy®, our AI-powered coach, helps you and your team communicate in a more productive way. Reflect analyzes communication from all angles — ageism, sexism, racism, confidence, sentiment, apologies, and more — to make you aware of your words, tone, and speech across all your devices, from desktop to mobile.


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