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Commentary: Learning the Hard Way How to Stay True to Myself

CLARA-SOPHIA DALY, HOST: Next in our commentary series, Shantel Destra shares the importance of staying true to who you are.

SHANTEL DESTRA, BYLINE: When I was 14, I was very scared about starting high school. I barely knew anyone at the school and I was really shy so I was scared about making friends.

When I made friends, they were really into dancing. They’d been doing it for years and were part of my school’s dance club. I’d never been drawn to dancing but I was determined to join the club with them. So I auditioned.

I wanted to hide but the room was surrounded by huge mirrors. I remember how cold the dance floor felt under my bare feet. I struggled with the choreography. There was all this fancy footwork and formations that didn’t seem to mesh with my body. Before I knew it, it was time. The dance leaders split us into small groups to perform. Everyone else sat and watched.

Three. Two. One. The up-tempo music started.

…. And I immediately forgot the choreography. My group was going one way, I was going the other... It was a complete mess. I was so embarrassed.

I did make the team. Well actually … I was chosen to be a dance apprentice because my moves were so bad.

It turns out, I didn’t even like dancing! And the dance “club” actually was a graded class that met before school. I’d struggle out of bed every morning at 5 am. When I’d leave the house, the sun was barely out and I’d fall into this zombie-like spirit on my commute. In dance class, I always felt self-conscious about my moves. I never got better. The class also had all these graded tests on the choreography. It was my worst nightmare.

I was spending time with my friends but, I wasn’t true to who I was and I paid the price for it until Senior year when I finally quit. I wish I could say I learned my lesson back then, but this pattern continued into my adult life. If you ask any of my family members …. they'll tell you, I love journalism. It's something I told them each, thousands of times. I studied it in college along with marketing, but when I graduated I was afraid of not making money. So I went the “safe route” and started my career in marketing and stayed in it for 4 long years.

Imagine working from 7 am to 8 pm on something that you don’t enjoy. The one thing I looked forward to was lunch. I’d eat a tuna sandwich, take long walks on the street of midtown and sit on the benches near Columbus circle. I’d watch people and wonder what they did with their lives. I dreamed of waking up and doing work that I loved.

Then the pandemic hit … and I was furloughed from my job. The career that I thought was safe, turned out not to be. Finally, I had to follow my gut. So I thought, why not do what I love? I decided to attend graduate school for journalism. Hands down, one of the best decisions of my life.

I always think back to the dance club and my marketing job when I’m faced with a tough decision - like whether or not to go on an expensive girls' trip or go out for drinks when I have schoolwork

to do. Now, I challenge myself to make decisions based on my happiness.

Not based on what I think is right or easy, but what truly makes me happy.

DALY: Shantel says she still doesn’t enjoy dancing, but the lessons it’s taught her are invaluable.


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