Every day of my life last spring began the same way. I’d wake up after snoozing my alarm a few too many times, roll out of bed and type “Mike Posner, Move On” into the search bar of my YouTube app. I’d sing the lyrics as I pulled the corners of my fitted sheet back over my mattress; in my sleep I always manage to pull them off. By the end of the song, the day ahead of me seemed a little brighter. If I was feeling indulgent, I’d play the song again, savoring the last few minutes of Mike’s voice filling my empty dorm room before heading out to class.
For Mike Posner, 2017 and 2018 were years reft with tragedy. The “Cooler than Me” singer lost his father to brain cancer, his friend Avicci to suicide and his friend Mac Miller to an accidental drug overdose. While composing the track “Move On,” Mike was grieving from a break-up, and had expressed disillusionment with his “rich and famous” lifestyle years prior through the lyrics of the Grammy-nominated song “I Took a Pill in Ibiza.” After a brief hiatus from the music scene, Mike made a surprising announcement in early 2019 — he was planning to travel across the entire United States, on foot.
Mike’s target was simple: to “enjoy my life and help others enjoy theirs,” “to be as authentic to other people as possible” and to “help others experience transcendence.” On April 15, Mike was sent off on his journey by a crowd of fans in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Throughout the six month trek, Mike stopped along the way to play spur of the moment “ninja shows,” chat with fans and even record a music video with Wiz Khalifa. In his interviews, Mike began to talk about his new life philosophy of free will and recognition of one’s mortality. His new, softer and more bare-bones sound seemed to reflect his new perspective on life.
I’d always been sort of a fan of Mike Posner. His songs were kind of catchy, his whispery tone was pleasant and I felt a weird kinship to him because he’d attended college in North Carolina, my home state. Early this year, when my older sister sent me an article about his walk across America, I was immediately intrigued. When I Googled him and saw his picture, I was even more so. He’d let his hair and beard grow out, and he looked like a young Bob Ross.
As time passed, I became even more immersed in Mike’s life. I started following him on Twitter. I listened to his new album, “A Real Good Kid.” “Move On” became my wake-up song and I watched his interviews religiously. At one point, my sister and I tentatively (and mostly jokingly) planned to join him on some part of his walk, but never followed through.
While struggling through a PWR 2 paper, I came across an interview Mike did with CBS This Morning. Something he said really caught my attention: “The big thing is, everyone wants you to forget you’re gonna die. Why? Because then you waste your time, waste your precious life doing what they want you to do.” At that moment, I was certain that if I didn’t make the deadline for my paper, some mortal doom was going to befall me. But his words kind of jarred me out of the state of panic I’d put myself in, and I really came to take Mike’s words to heart.
Of course, part of me desperately wanted to complete my paper. It was important. It aligned with my future goals. I didn’t think PWR was “a waste of time” imposed upon me against my will (though I know many who disagree). But I realized I had granted so much importance to something so arbitrary — a word count on a Google document, some letters strung together in the disgruntled email I imagined receiving from my professor. Meanwhile, I was still alive and breathing. I was fine. I was free to do essentially as I pleased.
I think it’s easy to forget this fact in the environment we’re in. We’re at Stanford University, smack-dab in the center of Silicon Valley, surrounded by a wealth of tech companies and immersed in a pressure-cooker environment of start-ups, internships, consulting and a million other buzzwords whose definitions I only learned after matriculating here.
I think Mike’s right.
I think the structure of society incubates us and isolates us from the fact that we are a bewildering combination of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and some other atoms, floating on a perplexing planet through endless and incomprehensible space, before we are anything else. I think society has a way of convincing us that our lives depend on its rules: “If I don’t get this internship, my life will be ruined,” or “If I get a bad grade in this class, my life will be ruined.” And perhaps to a certain extent, and for various reasons, we do have to play by society’s rules.
Of course, not everyone has Mike Posner’s money and can afford to slug off the world as quickly as he did into the wilderness. But I think his words are important nonetheless. Before we are anything, we are human, and our time on Earth is finite and precious. A lot of the things that seem to matter are kind of tentative and even imaginary, if you’re willing to go that far with it. For certain, they’re as tentative and changing as human society itself.
As for me, sophomore year was particularly difficult. Determined to improve my academic performance from freshman year, I isolated myself from my friends and tried to focus on school. I wanted something to be proud of. I think I wanted that same feeling of accomplishment I’d received in high school.
But like a stern parent, Stanford doesn’t dole out that feeling of approval easily, if at all. The more I expected from myself, the more I was met with imposter syndrome, writer’s anxiety, horrible procrastination and more late papers than I can count. I became hypersensitive to everyone’s impression of me as a student. I became hypersensitive to “techy/fuzzie” jokes and became completely ashamed of my humanities education, feeling like I’d gotten into Stanford only to take “the easy way out.” I felt isolated and attacked when people talked to me about all of the stuff they were doing, how well they did on their midterm, or when I opened my Instagram each day to a flood of utter happiness and success. Me? I’d disappointed everyone. I didn’t belong here. I wasn’t a “real” Stanford student, I was made out of cardboard. I was unintelligent and unmotivated. The list goes on.
In the spring, while most people I knew were taking lighter loads and basking in the sun, I found myself very sad and broken. The first time I heard “Move On,” I thought I’d found someone who was equally so. The lyrics “I feel pain/ I don’t want to,” are enough to pull on anyone’s heart strings. Yet, at the same time, the song is filled with so much hope. From the beginning, a steady guitar rift propels the listener forward. Mike’s inflection wavers as he articulates his pain, strong and steady vocals alternated with softer ones. His words are melancholy but optimistic. As the song approaches the chorus, the progression lifts you up, and when it hits, Mike tells you to “move on,” repeatedly, like a mantra, with a lively beat scaffolding it all.
In this way, “Move On” compels the listener to see the light without smothering or ignoring the pain in any sense. Instead, Mike Posner seems to be trying to bend the pain into happiness — harnessing, twisting, wrestling with it, and at times, losing. I think this song embodies the process of healing better than anything I’ve encountered.
I agree wholeheartedly with Mike. Sometimes, when society’s pressure is too much, the best thing to do is to remove yourself from it, or at least remember how ridiculous it is. People come and go from your life, but you stay in it. At the end of the day, you have to be living constantly, wholeheartedly, and unapologetically on your own terms, and in a way that makes you happy.
On Oct. 18, Mike Posner posted a video of himself on Twitter jumping into the Pacific Ocean in Venice Beach, California. Clad in bright orange swim trunks, suntanned and tan-lined, his long hair and beard damp with sea water, he’d traveled nearly 3,000 miles. He captioned the video, “My name is Mike Posner and I walked across America. Keep going.”
He did it.
I did it too.
I’d like to thank Mike Posner for helping me move on.
Contact Megan Faircloth at meganfaircloth ‘at’ Stanford.edu.