On New Year’s Day, I read an essay by Sarina Gruver Moore about choosing a mantra, rather than a resolution to live by for the next 365 days. I’m not much for resolutions to begin with, and I’m more likely to challenge myself at the mark of my own biological life than that of when civilization decided to begin tracking time (because I’m self-centered, I guess), and so I took this to heart on my twenty-fifth birthday, grabbed a mic, and stepped onto a window-display-turned-stage.
Some nights, local musicians strum guitars or Sharkman spins vinyl. But that night, like every Wednesday, Our Brewing Company was hosting karaoke.
“This is already embarrassing,” I muttered to the guy managing the set.
“Come on!” he said. “You’ll do great.”
Later that night, a girl’s voice hushed the crowd and warranted a standing ovation, but I don’t think the goal of karaoke is to “do great.” At the very least, it wasn’t my goal.
My goal was simple: To give myself a mantra to repeat to myself whenever I was losing confidence. If I could stand on a stage in front of a crowd of people and sing karaoke, then I could probably get over myself and do a lot of other things, too.
I realize karaoke doesn’t require very much confidence from everyone, but a few weeks ago, I passed a billboard that read, “Confidence isn’t always natural,” and my first thought was: Mmhmm, billboard. Preach it. But then I found myself wondering if confidence ever comes naturally.
If confidence is something built into DNA, then I’m screwed.
I’ve come a long way from the five-year-old scowling at people in the grocery store, but strangers still tell me to smile. (Strange men. Mostly men. So, let’s be clear: How dare you?) I still flounder in front of crowds. I skirt the walls, choose corner tables, and sit in the back. One of the first things people always note about me is how quiet and shy I am.
Confidence is less like a characteristic trait for me and more like a fluid scale influenced by several external variables that I have a bad habit of internalizing—how people treat me, how my skin is looking, how many dogs barked at me that day. (Sometimes, one bark is one bark too many, you know?)
Sometimes, I just end up shrinking into a box plotted by points I have little control over.
So, in one of the more terrifying moments of my life, I sang karaoke.
And it was oddly empowering.
It wasn’t so much that I proved something to myself either. It was more that I was standing on that stage in the spotlight and realizing I think about myself too often. What psychologists refer to as the spotlight effect—the tendency in which people believe others are noticing them more than they really are—is ironically evident in the spotlight on a small brewery stage.
I’m surprised because I thought I would’ve repressed karaoke, but I remember it a little too well because I had a group of humans whom I adore out in the crowd embarrassing me way more than I was embarrassing myself. Daily, they reassure me that even though life may try to fit you in a box, there are people who will help you break out.
I have my mantra, and it reminds me: No one sings “Ice Ice Baby” alone.
Cassie Westrate (’14) graduated with a double major in writing and international development studies. She currently lives in West Michigan, where she works as a writer, hangs out with her pet bird, and fights crime by night. Just kidding about the crime.