As the gym speakers settle into a slower melody, I lay down my deadlift, instantly transfixed by the memorable tune from Contemporary II. I feign a light jété, my pointed toes mimicking novel grace in the heavy grunt and sweat of the gym; momentarily, and to us, comically, the squat rack is transfigured into a ballet barre and the mirrors of the gym to those of the dance studio. In the midst of a pirouette, I knock over some dumbbells and land flat on my butt. Chuckling, my workout buddy reaches down to give me a hand.
After a shower, I walk home, humming my favorite jazz standard “Honeysuckle Rose”… the pensive soundtrack to my winter at The Hague International MUN conference…
The song had played in a particularly wistful tone that February of 2015, when I was serving as the Judge for the International Court of Justice Simulation Conference. At the close of the debate, too absorbed in legal minutiae, I failed to notice that my peers had all left for dinner without me. Alarmed, I hurriedly dashed out the door, scanning the perimeter for my group. Instead, I met only the indifferent glances of Dutchmen whizzing past on bikes. So I wandered The Hague’s antiquated cobblestones, alone with my iPod crooning Manhattan Lounge Band’s “Honeysuckle Rose.” What bubbled forth amidst the somber solitude was an omnibus of similar lonely memories. Reliving each instance, I realized that hidden amidst my self-proclaimed immersion in my work was the fact that I was afraid to meet new people and that I lacked key social skills.
In retrospect, I was left behind unintentionally. But the moment catalyzed my realization: in my fear of the unfamiliar, I had resorted to only interacting with acquainted classmates and had defaulted conversation topics to a humdrum of academic subjects. These routines had limited my horizons and hindered my own participation in creative conversation and meaningful relationships. I had let an aversion to the new define my limits.
That moment I asked myself if I, constantly afraid of adventure and the new, could confidently engage people. Galvanized by this experience, my ambition retorted with a convicted yes.
From that day forward, I committed myself to developing charisma and trying out new things. As I devoured every book, article and video related to learning savoir faire, I started to grasp the confidence that lays the foundation for expressing poise; the lack thereof, I later realized, had barricaded me inside my comfort zone. With this newfound self-assurance, I dismantled my obstructionist mentality that had mired me in the mundane, choosing instead to embark on quests for novelty.
It wasn’t easy. I was so nervous I chewed my nails in the bathroom for a good hour before my dance audition; other times, I found myself reluctant to try out for activities like track and field (a sport I have always been passionate about but never had the courage to participate in). But every time the memory of the lonely Dutch alleys fueled my courage to explore the foreign.
Today, I am spicing up that promise with an adventurous selection of activities in unfamiliar settings. In Dance II, I chassé clear out of my comfort zone, and in the gym, I throw down the large chip on my shoulder from being teased as skinny in explosive med ball slams. Eventually, my self-actualizing mindset propelled me to set a deadlift PR of 175 kg and land a major role in the November dance production.
Now and then my playlist shuffles to “Honeysuckle Rose.” The song now plucks a triumphant tune on my heartstrings, not as a melancholic requiem of the past, but as the overture to the opera of my life, introducing its motif of self-improvement; a personal reminder to continue thinking (and dancing) outside of the familiar, where falling (and failing) always precede new self-discovery.