I don't have too many inspirations in the world, but there's been one person who's been my biggest inspiration for as long as I could remember: Justin Timberlake.
I don't know what it is, but I've always admired the idea of this man who accesses every expression of themselves with a sort of fearless ambition. And Justin Timberlake is a powerhouse with tech investments, platinum albums and an accomplished acting career to tow. But when he announced the surprise release of his highly-anticipated third album, he only solidified the notion for me. So I had to see him in person this go-around for he was, indeed, my biggest inspiration in the world.
A week before the release of his new album at the time, it was announced that he would be performing everyday for a week on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. I couldn't believe it. I was going to be able to make my dream a reality. So instead of going home for the break, I decided to go to New York City after finishing my midterms. And what I gained from this experience was nothing like I could've ever expected.
Now, how these late-night talk shows typically work is that they're usually shot in the late afternoon with tickets being first-come, first-serve, thus, the reason why I arrived on a very cold Thursday midnight to be admitted to Friday's taping. I eventually did get tickets to the show, sat in an aisle seat, and received a high five from Justin after an epic performance of the History of Rap Four. It all happened so quickly that I couldn't even comprehend what had just occurred.
A couple of hours after what seemed to be an outer-body experience, I decided to go to an evening performance of The Book of Mormons on Broadway and here's where things got even more surreal. While I was in Will Call to pick up tickets for the show, I noticed a man in what I remembered to be a casual, black trench coat step out of a taxi cab in front of the show's theater. Who was it? Could it be? No, I thought. But yes, it was!
If not only a different environment, this was certainly a different Justin to me. Partly because he was with his wife and I was no longer a part of a subdued studio audience. This was now the real world. And he was walking towards me.
In this very moment, it all started coming back to me for some reason: that awkward phase during my younger years when I had cornrows and wanted to beatbox just like the lead singer of *NSYNC; the man who inspired me to live beyond my dreams with his clever retort -- "A billion dollars" -- in my favorite movie of all-time, The Social Network. I mean, this was Dylan Harper. This was the first man I ever saw Punk'd and my favorite person to host Saturday Night Live. This was my idol and, for the first time in what seemed like a passive experience earlier, he was right there standing in front of me.
As he approached the entrance to the theater, he looked at me with a sort of familiarity from the earlier taping (though doubtful in recent reflection). I still couldn't believe this was happening.
But, what did I do as he shuffled with the masses to fill the theater still maintaining a shifting glance? What did I do during this window in time when he was standing a mere inch away from me? What did I do in the moment that I could've said how much he meant to me after all these years?
I unabashedly turned away in a sort of clumsy nervousness.
I didn't say a thing. I never tried to tell him how much he'd inspired me over the past decade. Or even attempt to give him a one-word critique of his "unbelievable" performance earlier on Fallon. No. I simply turned my back on 18 years of words that I've always wanted to say -- never expressing one. I'd missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and during my trek back to the Port Authority, I continued to think about what this experience had truly taught me.
When I returned to my dorm room later that night, I was in a different mindset because I didn't at all regret what had happened. Strange, but I knew that those unspoken words would soon lead to a yearning to be better in my own life. And oddly enough, the words that were left unsaid went into the drive of something else. Something that really did change how I live my life -- forever.
Now, the reason that I'm telling this story is not to at all boast about this unforgettable experience, but to speak of the lesson from the inspiring moment. We've all had it. When our parents surprised us with an unexpected left-turn to go get ice cream on those car rides home from school. Or the time that our teacher inspired us by validating our dreams in suggesting that we audition for a talent show. Whatever it was, there's a certain surge of power that we get like the youthful jolt of energy on Christmas morning. This idea that our wildest dreams can happen at any moment and great things can truly come out of the unexpected.
I never want to lose that feeling.
Hope and optimism are the guiding factors to my life now -- as it should be for everyone. Justin not only taught me this, but drove the idea home in those New York moments. The consistency in his altruism, drive and dynamic career, unlike other artists, has never let me down. And it's really okay to be yourself and express your ambitions to the world, which I've learned through his own life. It only makes us better.
So, as I continue listen to the best-selling album of 2013 (yes, it's his), I think about what an incredible year it's been thanks largely to Justin's inspirational value. And even more so at 19-years-old, I now know that incredible things can happen at any moment. You just have to believe. And with that, I thank Mr. Timberlake.
Tywan Wade is currently a sophomore at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Read more about him in Impossible Dreams: The Story of Discovering My Superpowers.