Real talk: sometimes it can be hard to choose the things that make you happy if they’re not what society tells us to do or be.

Interwoven systems of privilege and prejudice in the US want so many things from us. They want us to dress and act in a way that puts us comfortably within the bounds of the gender assigned to us at birth, be straight, be monogamous, be Christian (or at least believe in God), be a certain weight, talk a certain way (code-switching, anyone?), have a certain amount of sex, and on and on. It’s confining if you succeed and can be painful and dangerous if you fail. It’s suffocating.

The damage of narrow social expectations is twofold: external, and internal.

When we fail to meet these expectations we face shaming, discrimination, and even violence from those who want to “correct” us.

But even our own brains are working against us- we’ve been marinating in these systems of privilege and prejudice for our whole lives, for so long that we’ve absorbed them. So even when we know it’s bullshit, we still feel that reflexive shame, or loss, or fear, about claiming the things we want and the things we are that lie outside society’s box for us.

That friggin’ sucks.

It’s a good start to be able to see what’s happening clearly and know that it sucks and it’s bullshit, but sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes you just need a little extra inspiration to be brave and be yourself. Sometimes you need…

Elsa from Frozen singing

A SONG.

Or better yet: a playlist. Here are five songs to inspire you to do what makes you happy. Please share your own in the comments!   

Let It Go

Okay, let’s get this one out of the way. Obviously this is on the list: Frozen‘s hit song is all about breaking free of others’ expectations and your own fears to be true to yourself. Sing along- you know you want to…

Sample lyrics:
It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through
No right no wrong, no rules for me- I’m free

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Ain’t Nobody’s Business

This song is EPIC, especially this version featuring the amazing combined talents of Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan, and Etta James. I feel special gratitude to Ms. Knight for calling out the problematic lyrics in the last verse.

Sample lyrics:
If I should take a notion to jump into the ocean
Ain’t nobody’s business if I do
If I go to church on Sunday, then cabaret all day Monday
Ain’t nobody’s business if I do

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Smoke Alarm

Sometimes when the pressure of preserving your perfect reputation for doing what others expect of you gets to be too much, it helps to remember that you’re going to die. Thanks, Carsie!

Sample lyrics:
Why do you waste your time 

Thinkin’ bout your reputation,  
Trying to meet an expectation,
Wonderin’ what they’re gonna say 
When everyone you ever known 
Is headed for a headstone 
I don’t wanna give the end away but we’re gonna die one day 

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Follow Your Arrow

My main memory of this song is sitting in my best friend’s bedroom with her while we talked about a big, life-changing, social-norms-defying decision she was making, and intermittently singing earnestly along as we played this song on repeat.

Sample lyrics:
Say what you think, love who you love
‘Cause you just get so many trips ’round the sun
Yeah, you only, only live once

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Hate On Me

If Jill Scott doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will. In the most fabulous way possible, she reminds us that you can’t escape the haters, so it’s best to just dismiss them.

Sample lyrics:
You cannot hate on me, ’cause my mind is free
Feel my destiny, so shall it be
You cannot hate on me hater
Now or later
‘Cause I’m gonna do me
You’ll be mad baby

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Ok, your turn. What are your favorite screw-the-haters, follow-your-heart songs?