The freedom of being my true authentic self
I am in a room. It’s a comfortable room. The room has everything I need to live a comfortable life. There is a door separating the room from the outside world. I don’t know what’s out there. It could be filled with danger and pain, but it could also be filled with adventures and joy. One thing I know for certain though is that it’s not this room. It’s not the sheets I’ve grown so accustomed to, the mattress whose texture I’ve memorized by heart.
There is no one stopping me from walking out the door. All I have to do is open it and leave. But I can’t. All I could do is scream on the inside, scream at the fact that I want something better but dare not going after it. All I could do is sit in that room, look at the door, and wish for a life that could be.
For a very long time, this is how I felt every single day.
For a very long time, I dared not venture into the unknown world because of fear. Fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear of pain.
For a very long time, I lived the way I was expected to live in that comfortable room.
I graduated Summa Cum Laude from an elite high school where I was three people away from being valedictorian.
I graduated from MIT.
I worked in the lab of a renowned investigator.
I was on the path to medical school.
I pursued normal hobbies outside of work: climbing, running and yoga.
I maintained a stable, tame, five-year relationship.
“Most of us have two lives: the life we live and the un-lived life within us.” — Steven Pressfield
For a very long time, I dared not explore the un-lived life within me.
I’ve always been fascinated by night club dancers. To me they portrayed an aura of freedom, freedom of owning who they are, freedom from a life bound by societal expectations. I was curious about their world, a world I’ve only seen on TV, a world only painted in my mind by the people surrounding me.
Though I had yet to have a true glimpse of that world, I’ve always wanted to discover what it’s like to be at the center of a big stage. I’ve always wanted to feel the sensation of putting on a show and owning a presence. I’ve always wanted to know what it’s like to be part of a world so different from my own.
This is an inner desire I dared not approach because I was scared of how others would perceive me. A desire kept concealed by society, by culture, by the things I’ve seen and heard.
When I was in high school, I saw an episode of “America’s Next Top Model” in which Joanie Dodds (who eventually became runner-up) was criticized by Tyra Banks for being a cage dancer in the past.
When I entertained the idea of exotic dancing to my ex of five years, I was met with nothing but “You know the people who dance at strip clubs normally all have really serious relationship problems right?”
Over and over, I am conditioned by media, by people around me, into believing that feeling and acting sexy is something to be ashamed of.
So I hid the spark lest it bursts into something wild. I buried deep within this curiosity I had for fear of judgment and disapproval. To make myself feel better, I told myself what society had told me: that it’s disgraceful to flaunt ones body like that; that those dancers are doing this because they have no other choice.
It was easier to live up to what society views as good than to have the courage to be true to myself and live on my own terms. It was easier to stay in that comfortable room than to face the unknown. Comfort became the only thing I knew. Comfort became only thing I clung to.
After a series of events, I realized how toxic grabbing onto the idea of comfort is.
I don’t want to be her anymore. I don’t want to be the girl trapped inside her own mind, too afraid to go out into the world.
So I finally left my room. A couple weeks ago, I auditioned to dance at an exotic night club. A few days later, I got on center stage and performed in front of an audience. It was novel. It was refreshing. It was exhilarating.
Never had I ever experienced the thrill of strangers cheering for me and me only. Never had I ever experienced the thrill of arousing an entire audience by myself. I felt appreciated, I felt seen, I felt otherworldly.
I’ve now experienced the other side. It is truly amazing to live authentically, to follow wherever our heart leads us, to not be afraid.
I don’t have an exact roadmap of what I want my life to be, but I know for sure what I don’t want:
I don’t want to live with the shackle of expectations surrounding my feet, binding me to what culture has taught us to be normal. I don’t want to be the girl trapped within her room, wanting something better but not having the courage to take the leap of faith. I don’t want to live my life being scared.
Am I going to dance for a long time? Of course not. Maintaining a double life is both physically and mentally exhausting. But for now, I need to live for me.
When I am ready, I will step down from my stage and come back to my room (or go to another room altogether), and resume my normal life. But when I do, it would have been by my own volition. On that day, however soon or late it is, I know I will have embarked on an incredible journey.
“Settling in to your true, weird, authentic self isn’t easy, but it’s the most satisfying way to have everything.” — Neil Pasricha
Therefore, I want to live the way I want to live even if it means defying societal expectations. I want to live a life where I have the courage to follow my curiosity (intellectual and artistic) wherever they might lead me, even if it’s to the center stage of an exotic night club.
A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.