Leadership Lessons from Taylor Swift

by Seth Cohen, Founder

Applied Optimism Group, LLC

We all have secrets that aren’t easy to share; things that nobody knows, and things that aren’t always comfortable to admit.

I mean, sure, some people say they are open books, and generously share personal information on social media, on blogs, or even (ahem), in a regular newsletter. But deep down, they have a few things they don’t always publicly share because it might be too revealing, too embarrassing, or just hard to explain.

I have one of those secrets. 

I am a Swiftie. 

Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with that term, it is slang for someone who is a Taylor Swift fan. In other words, one of my big secrets (that’s *officially* not-so-secret now), is that I am a Taylor Swift groupie. A big one.

I haven’t always been a Swiftie, but over the past few years, I admit that I have become part of the percentage of “grown-ups” who don’t roll their eyes when a Taylor Swift song comes on the radio. Actually, I am the opposite. Her music is super catchy; her concerts are epic; and her overall approach to building, managing, and maintaining her brand is the stuff of business school case studies. Sure, she doesn’t do it alone; she has her whole management team and countless people supporting her (especially her mom). But at the end of the day, her name, her music, and her image are out in the world for everyone to see and hear. And it is hard to miss her these days, especially since she released her new album “Lover” with extraordinary publicity and precision. This woman knows how to execute, and as you know, that is one of the things that I believe matters most.

But it is the first song on the new album that really has me thinking, and prompted my public declaration of being a Swiftie. Titled I Forgot that You Existed, it is the most pop-i-licious post-break up, post-heartbreak, post-failure song you can listen to. After singing about how she forgot the unnamed person existed, she sings:

“And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t.”


That line, less than 45 seconds into the album, had me hooked. Here is why:

How many of us have experienced something, done something, or made a decision that we thought would kill us? Something so big that it was, at the moment, hard to see past? Maybe it was the “big thing,” the unnerving obstacle, the difficult task, that we had to go through to get to the other side? Or possibly it was taking a leap (or even being nudged) into a new career or a bold venture?

Whatever it is, in that moment we sometimes feel like the very experience of it all will metaphorically kill us.

But it didn’t. Right?

In Swift’s case, maybe she is talking about an ex-boyfriend. But it could also be about her transition from country to pop music. Maybe it is about making some mistakes or bad choices in her career. Whatever it is, she wasn’t killed by it. Not only that, but she became stronger as a result of it. As she has reinvented herself, she has become one of the world’s biggest pop stars and is increasingly using her voice to advocate for other artists and causes, especially the endorsement of the federal Equality Act. [Note: A common attribute of members of the Swiftie Nation is optimistically defending Taylor. So I check that box too.]

That’s not all though, I want to reveal another secret. Over the past few months, I too, have been challenged by things that I felt would metaphorically kill me. Going from being part of a well-resourced team to being a sole entrepreneur who is trying to build a team hasn’t been easy. Creating new projects with limited resources is hard. People stopped calling (or returning calls) and relationships that I thought would transcend career changes abruptly ended. Learning how to answer the questions of “where do you work” and “what are you doing” felt (and sometimes still feels) epically uncomfortable. And of course the same doubt that musicians have… what if my next “album” isn’t as well received as the last one… is something that has crossed my mind.

But none of that killed me. Not even close.

And whatever is challenging you right now, it won’t kill you either.

What I have learned is that all of us inherently have inside of us what we need to endure. Sure, we need people around us to sometimes help us see it. They hold the proverbial mirror up to our eyes so we can see that we have what it takes. We have strength and courage. We have insights and ideas. Some of us have faith, and others of us have spiritual fortitude. But all of us have the “right stuff” inside of us. That is the stuff we can’t forget, even when we choose to forget other things.

The haters? If you are thinking about them, they are living rent-free in your mind. The doubts? They are noisy trespassers, squatting on your dreams. The more you clear your mind, the more peaceful and quiet it is, and the more room you make for clarity. That is what happens when mountains don’t kill you: you can see the oceans of possibility ahead of you.

So maybe you aren’t a Taylor Swift fan… that’s cool. I understand. But it won’t kill you to listen to at least this song of hers and realize that sometimes a pop star at the top of the charts can ground us in one of the most fundamental truths of growing up:

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

Listen to I Forgot That You Existed on Spotify at: https://spoti.fi/2Zs1Pww

Questions for personal reflection:

  • What is something that you thought would kill you, but didn’t?
  • What personal source(s) of strength did you draw on to overcome that challenge?
  • Which allies help you through your challenges? Have you thanked them recently?


Note from #MovementMakerTribe Founder, Terri Broussard Williams: I have been a fan of Seth Cohen for a long time. Maybe not as long as I have been a Swiftie, but for a long time. Seth is one of the people that recommended me to participate in the #REALITYIsrael journey. He’s known for finding inspiration everywhere he goes and you know that’s something I subscribe to in my work. Seth’s article (as originally published on Linked In) spoke to me at a time when I needed motivation from others. I hope you enjoyed his applied optimism as much as I do.

Wondering why there’s no picture of #TaylorSwift in this article? I hear that Tae don’t play. I know someone who used her image and got a letter requesting her to immediately stop. As they say, “Put respect on my name.”