I Choose Me, I'm Sorry

This blog post is a stream of thoughts about self-management triggered by a music album. Yes, that’s a bit different than my previous writing on organisational structures and decision-making. But I care deeply about self-awareness and self-care, and the stream of thoughts below culminates in some relevant ideas.

Kendrick Lamar released his latest studio album, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” a couple of months ago. I’ve been anticipating this album. Not just because Kendrick is sometimes called “the voice of the generation” and is one of the most decorated rappers of our time, a list of his many awards even including a Pulitzer prize. His previous album, “DAMN.” will always hold a special place in my memory.

Tell me who you loyal to
Do it start with your woman or your man?
Do it end with your family and friends?
Are you loyal to yourself in advance?
– Kendrick Lamar “LOYALTY.”

DAMN was released in 2017, the year I met my now-wife. Kendrick, as artists usually do, toured the album across the globe. My then-girlfriend and I had our first-ever international trip to see Kendrick perform in Cologne at the start of 2018. The concert was fantastic. Not only because of the music, but because of who I was with to hear the music. It remains (and I expect it to remain) one of my favorite musical experiences.

A short digression. My other top musical experience was going to Estonia with my classmates right after finishing school to see Metallica. The music was great, but the additional emotional reasons made the event so memorable. I was so emotionally engaged that I entirely spent myself physically. I distinctly remember not being able to walk after the concert, collapsing at one point in a street. This collapse happened partly because of how much energy I spent moving to the songs, but also probably tells something about my physical fitness at the time. And no, I didn’t drink a sip of alcohol. Anyway, back to Kendrick and the Cologne trip.

I remember us entering the hotel room, unpacking, turning on the TV, and Kendrick appearing on the screen. Coincidentally, his performance from some award show happened to play when we arrived at the hotel. The whole trip was as close to perfect as possible. Some Kendrick songs continue to evoke images of the trip for me.

And that’s why I had the release date for “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” on my calendar. When the album dropped, I started listening to it 20 minutes after its release. I didn’t get the album after the first listen. I noticed the therapeutic ideas, and a quick search on the internet confirmed that Kendrick did therapy during the five years between the two albums.

A child that grew accustomed, jumping up when I scraped my knee
‘Cause if I cried about it, he’d surely tell me not to be weak
Daddy issues, hid my emotions, never expressed myself
Men should never show feelings, being sensitive never helped
– Kendrick Lamar “Father Time”

This context immediately shone a new light on the content of the songs. I’ve also spent a couple of years in therapy, which strengthened my connection to the songs. I started noticing elements in the songs which I didn’t see on the first listen. The whole album feels to me like a therapy session (at least similar to those sessions I experienced). It starts with an extensive information dump, discusses familial trauma, past mistakes, and slowly builds into breakthroughs and acceptance.

I know what some of those reading are thinking: I’m aware that Kendrick is not the first artist to experience therapy and then write songs through a therapeutic lens. The goal of this blog post is not to praise the album. Well, not only.

Personal gain off my pain, it’s nonsense
Darlin’, my demons is off the leash for a moshpit
Baby, I just had a baby, you know she need me
Workin’ on myself, the counselin’ is not easy
– Kendrick Lamar “Mirror”

The album culminates with the song called “Mirror.” The tones become lighter, and the chorus is a continual repeating of “I choose me, I’m sorry.” I remember the feeling behind those words. One of the critical breakthroughs in my therapy was understanding better what I want and what matters to me. I started accepting myself more fully. But choosing myself wasn’t easy at first. I would feel apologetic. Only with time, it became easier.

Self-management is sometimes misinterpreted as the ability to push down and ignore personal emotions and needs. That’s not how I understand self-management. For me, it’s the ability to manage my behavior, thoughts, and emotions through being self-aware. Self-awareness is key. Self-awareness enables self-care and the ability to regulate emotions.

Most of us have avoided our emotions at one time or another. We don’t want to feel uncomfortable. If we avoid our emotions too often, it eventually builds up. It happens with other people too. If someone tells us they feel bad, it’s common to use reassurance instead of engaging in the person’s experience. It leaves the other person feeling invalidated. It leaves their pain lingering and unprocessed. That’s one of the advantages of therapy - the professional therapist knows how to help you process your pain and gain self-awareness.

Self-awareness leads to self-care, which means taking care of mental needs. These days I choose myself without being sorry. I prioritize exercise, eating (mostly) healthy food, sleep (no alarm clock!), relationships, and relaxation. I know my limits. I know how to be effective within those limits. I rarely experience anxiety. When I encounter anxiety, I know how to dig deeper and understand the root cause. Self-awareness leads to self-care and self-management, which makes me happier and more effective in my pursuits.

Before I go in fast asleep, love me for me
I bare my soul and now we’re free
– Kendrick Lamar “Mother I Sober”

I’m happy that one of my favorite artists openly decided to talk about his experience. I hope it will inspire more people to open up in therapy or to people they can trust. The album helped me reflect on my experience again, remember some of the things I’ve learned, and learn a couple of new things too.