Rise to the occasion.

Have you ever met that person who makes their presence known from the minute they get to the party? They're bubbly, have mastered conversation and whether they know anyone or not, they'll leave the party with a handful of new friends. I was never that person.

But can you look past the social guy to see the wallflower in the corner? Party of one? That was me for a long time. Too long.

This story sums it up best. Past, present and future, I have always loved to dance. When I was about four years old, my mom signed me up for a ballet class, which--no surprise--I loved. BUT. But at the end of the class, the teacher invited each of us to form a circle and dance however we wished in front of the class. When it came time for me to dance like no one was watching, I cried and couldn't do it. Needless to say, I only lasted a few more classes.

Year later, when I was working as a receptionist, I would break a sweat when I had to call a complete stranger on the phone. God forbid if they didn't pick up and I had to leave a message. Words were jumbled; I suddenly became amazing at being inarticulate. I never went alone to parties and it always took me a little longer to warm up to a room of people. Even if it was a family party, I would stay quiet and listen to everyone else until I felt comfortable enough to open up.

It's hard to pinpoint when your core characteristics start to grow and change, but I started to fake it until I felt it. Reaching outside your comfort zone and embracing the uncomfortable is a wonderful, addictive feeling.

Fortunately, I wound up with two jobs that constantly reaquainted me with being uncomfortable: Writing and Cooking.  Talk about vulnerability! Write a story or poem from your heart and share it with a friend. Recognize how uncomfortable it starts to get for you when they begin reading it. Cooking, too. Everyone eats and everyone has an opinion on what they eat. They might not know how to cook an egg, but they'll have plenty of corrections to make when they go to that new restaurant in town. Make a new dish and feed someone. You'll notice how you wait for their reaction, or any small signal that lets you know whether they approve or not.

Fortunately, I genuinely can't remember what it feels like to be that shy. I'm able to talk to new people without stuttering and fumbling through words. I need to remind myself not to take up all of the air time when I'm out with friends. Whether or not it gets read, I write. And whether or not it gets eaten, I cook. Oh, and I dance...like everyone is watching. We all should.

Chocolate Souffle
Serves 2-4 (courtesy of Gourmet)

As far as desserts go, souffles are pretty gutsy. They're the go-for-the-gold dish. Will they rise? Will they be fluffy? The suspense is fun and you don't have to feel to uncomfortable--this recipe is a classic--you're in good hands.
  • 1/3 cup sugar plus additional for sprinkling
  • 5 oz bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
  • 3 large egg yolks at room temperature
  • 6 large egg whites
  • Accompaniment: lightly sweetened whipped cream
  • Special equipment: a 5 1/2- to 6-cup glass or ceramic soufflé dish
Preheat oven to 375°F. Generously butter soufflé dish and sprinkle with sugar, knocking out excess.
Melt chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and stir in yolks (mixture will stiffen).
Beat whites with a pinch of salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add 1/3 cup sugar, a little at a time, continuing to beat at medium speed, then beat at high speed until whites just hold stiff peaks. Stir about 1 cup whites into chocolate mixture to lighten, then add mixture to remaining whites, folding gently but thoroughly.
Spoon into soufflé dish and run the end of your thumb around inside edge of soufflé dish (this will help soufflé rise evenly). Bake in middle of oven until puffed and crusted on top but still jiggly in center, 24 to 26 minutes. Serve immediately.

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