Taking Ctrl With SZA

Life changing albums are few and uncommon, and Sza’s Ctrl is definitely one of those rare gems. No piece of art better addresses the insecurities, the vulnerability, and the uncertainty accompanied with the transition to adulthood. Growing up means coming to terms with the fact that a lot of questions will be unanswered. Realizing that you won’t necessarily end up where you thought you’d be. Accepting that the people you desperately cling onto can end up leaving. There are no guidelines to this whole life thing and that’s hitting me particularly hard right now.

The loss of control and grappling with the fact that there are no instructions to achieving my life goals translates to a lot of fear and anxiety influencing my decisions, but rather than staying in my comfort zone, I forcefully push my boundaries. I fear boredom, misery, and mediocrity far more than I fear moving across the country, going to events by myself, and meeting new people. Perhaps I’m not ready for the things I get into, yet that doesn’t stop me. Like everyone, I seek comfort. I create a home for myself in other things, and especially in other people.

I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t involved with someone. Romantic interests are a tempting distraction from the lack of a solid support system and a quick fix to the fear of loneliness and abandonment. I drop and pick up someone new every couple of months — mainly because I fear commitment, or maybe because I don’t actually like them. I keep them because, like Sza, I get so lonely I forget what I’m worth. And every once in awhile someone I actually want to be with will come around, but they won’t want me back. I’m sure everyone can relate. We’ve all gotten emotionally invested in someone who will never be available for us despite knowing that from the get-go

The worst part of being invested in someone who couldn’t care less about you is the insecurities that sprout up because of it. Years worth of building up confidence is compromised because of one person. An undeserving, unappreciative idiot. As if being young and confident wasn’t hard enough.

“Cause it’s hard enough you got to treat me like this,
Lonely enough to let you treat me like this”

Despite knowing how toxic this person is, I come running back to them. I settle for their lack of effort and trick myself into thinking I can do all the work for us. Giving free emotional labor for a person who doesn’t give a second thought to my own emotions. I’m scared I’ll never find anyone who makes me feel this way, who understands me, who let’s me be me. It’s really a silly thought, especially considering my age and limited exposure to dating, but logic and emotions don’t always see eye-to-eye. I can’t help feeling the way that I feel.

While everything around me is in flux, it’s nice to believe that someone will hold me down. There’s a person to cry to, a person who cares, a person who’ll give. Even if it’s only for a little while. Even if it’s an illusion. I’ll settle for the fantasy of companionship.

“Hope you never find out who I really am
’Cause you’ll never love me, you’ll never love me”

Alas, all fairytales come to an end. Eventually, the situation will open a new wave of insecurities that didn’t exist before. Then when it all blows over I’ll sit back and obsess over the whole thing. Maybe if I was prettier they’d stay? Maybe if I was less talkative they’d like me? Maybe if I was this or that things would be different?

“Do you even know I’m alive?”

I mean I can change my appearance and try to alter my personality, but do they even care? What’s the point of changing yourself for someone who has already moved on? Why am I looking for the solution for fear, abandonment, uncertainity in an individual just as confused and scared as I am?

“Normal girl, I wish I was a normal girl”

And sometimes I just want a break from this all. I want to go lay under my covers and nap until I wake up and all my questions are answered and my life is sorted out. Nap until I wake up and am thirty, flirty, and thriving. I firmly believe if I stayed near home, majored in something that made money, and settled for the men around me my life would be simpler, more structured. But I’d also be miserable. Becoming the strong woman I desire to be is a lengthy process. It isn’t always an upward trajectory, but I choose to believe the effort I put in will reap rewards. I’ll get my degree, live where I want, and get a well-paying job, and I’ll also have depth of character. I’ll gain an experience and understanding that only comes with stepping out and exploring. Normal is comfortable, but normal is also mind numbingly, painfully boring.

Despite all of the pain others and I have inflicted on myself, I’m going to dust myself off and try again. The biggest takeaway from the album for me is acceptance. Learning to accept the negatives that come with the positives. I can’t be strong 100% of the time. A lot of women empowerment conversations, especially in music, center around looking our best, earning well, and establishing our dominance — that’s all great, but being transparent about our vulnerability and flaws is equally important. Addressing our insecurities are crucial in our healing process. Ctrl lets young adults like me know that we’re not dumb or stupid for making mistakes and feeling unsure, and we’re certainly not alone in this never-ending process of growing up.

“I belong to nobody
Hope it don’t bother you
You could mind your business
I belong to nobody
Try not to disturb
And mind my business”

As much as I celebrate my individuality, I too crave acceptance, but I have to remind myself time and time again that I belong to myself. So many of my peers are pursuing careers they’re not passionate about for the sake of money. So many people I know are settling and getting married young because they don’t want to be single in their late 20’s. So many people are living their lives based on the terms of their parents or what those around them expect from them. Especially my fellow South Asian peers. Don’t they want to make their own choices? Be their own person? Maybe I’m young and naive and will eventually follow what is expected of me, but I’d rather believe I’m too head-strong and determined for all of that.

“I’ve been on the low key grinding
Learning on the low key, shining
Tryin’ to keep to myself”

Only once we have addressed our issues can we take back control. I’ve never really been much of a go-with-the-flow type of person, and I don’t advocate for us to fall back and give up so easily. Cut off toxic people, notice red flags when they first appear, focus on yourself. The extrovert in me loves going to concerts, events, and shows to meet new people, but I’m sure many find that joy in keeping to themselves.

Then again, control is a myth, so rather than obsessing over mapping out your path, master the art of adapting to detours. Sza’s album tells us to give ourselves the space to breathe, process our emotions, and adjust to what life has handed to us without letting it consume us. At the end of the day maturity isn’t solely defined by what we have the strength to endure, but what we choose to walk away from and walk towards instead.