Hayley Kiyoko and “Self-Reliance”

Hayley Kiyoko and “Self-Reliance”


Spring is starting to spring, and I am starting to feel like myself again as I get back to work. I remembered that I never posted this blog last year, since I was going on maternity leave in September 2021. In the spirit of authenticity, I am posting this exactly as I wrote it last year. Just six months ago feels like much longer now that we’ve gotten back into a routine a bit closer to pre-pandemic (we will probably never go back entirely!)

This post considers how to integrate changes we went through during 2020 as we get “back to normal”, especially for young people. It features one of my favorite videos about the dance of being yourself, which empowers us to embrace and express who we are now and have always been.

Hayley Kiyoko and “Self-Reliance” (originally written September 2021)

I’m thinking of all the young people going back to school after over a year of pandemic isolation virtual learning madness. It was an existential crisis for me as a grown adult with a fully developed brain. I can only imagine what it was like watching the outside world change so drastically meanwhile your personal world is developing rapidly as well. I imagine many young people are returning to school way different than they left it in March 2020. This was way more than a summer break’s worth of changes. In my work with adolescents, I’ve seen developments that have made some of my clients almost unrecognizable from the mess they were in pre-pandemic. I’m really proud of them.

The song and music video for “Gravel to Tempo” seem to depict going back to school actualized. This song by Hayley Kiyoko seems to be written with consideration of her own experience coming out. It also has universal themes that can be applied to any authentic self-expression. Her dancing is pretty transcendent.

The refrain “I’ll do this my way/Don’t matter if I break/I gotta be on my own,” and the liberating confidence it implies reminds me of the powerful 19th century transcendental essay “Self Reliance” by Ralf Waldo Emerson (https://emersoncentral.com/texts/essays-first-series/self-reliance/) that I was assigned to read in high school. This essay super rich with ideas about non-conformity, identity, spirituality, and my favorite personal journey: differentiation. While the song doesn’t cover all the themes of Emerson’s essay (at least not obviously), I think it covers the biggest one: that it’s okay and encouraged to be yourself. The video especially reinforces that your own differentiation can inspire others. I love this truth.

One of my favorite quotes from the “Self-Reliance” essay comes right at the beginning:

“In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”

It is so often that once someone is brave enough to speak up, that many people follow with “I was thinking the same thing!”

If this song, and Hayley Kiyoko’s experience coming out speaks to you very directly, I can recommend the HRC website for some helpful guidance on exploring your identity and coming out: https://www.hrc.org/resources/coming-out.  This website hosts resources supporting many intersections of identity. Also, Google is your friend to find LGBTQ supportive communities in the DC area such as the ones listed in this article: https://washington.cbslocal.com/top-lists/best-lgbt-resources-in-the-dc-area/. Though it’s an old article most of these groups are still going.

Full Lyrics:

Note: The analysis on here: https://genius.com/10296330? gives more insight into the artist’s experience and creation of this song.

 Gravel to Tempo

Written by Hayley Kiyoko, Cecil Bernardy, and Jonathan Dorr

Catch my name for kicks
Thinking I would be right by your side
I don’t feel adequate
Thinking I’m a monster in disguise
We’ve gone down every list
Stuck but I have got to begin to resist
Caught up with the fact that life will be dark
But can we handle being kids?


I’ll do this my way
Don’t matter if I break
I gotta be on my own
Lost in this feeling
Don’t never need a reason
I gotta be on my own

I gotta be on my own

 Try to stand the test
But the night is crawling through my eyes
I thought I was depressed
But I think I just needed to cry


Spencer Northey

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