There are a lot of stereotypes about introverts. Often, when folks hear (or say) the word introvert, they think of someone who is terminally shy, painfully awkward, absolutely inept at the art of making friends, and generally not a fan of being around other people. At its core, though, being introverted is really about where you draw energy from. If you find yourself rested and recharged by time spent alone (or, sometimes, in the company of one or two very close friends), you’re likely an introvert. If the opposite is true, and you find that you need to be around groups of people in order for you to refuel, you’re probably an extrovert. Introverts aren’t necessarily lacking in confidence - they just need to be alone to fill their tank back up.
As frustrating as some of these stereotypes can be for introverts, I will readily admit that many of those stereotypes really do ring true for me. I can count on one hand the number of times in my life I have made friends with someone on purpose. Most of my friends are extroverts who at some point looked at me and thought, That one. I’m going to be friends with that one. It is profoundly against my nature to approach a new person and say hello. If I’m in a group made up primarily of people I don’t know, I’m not likely to say much (at least, not at first). I might be the single least assertive person I know. Given all of this, how is it that the main way I choose to express myself creatively is by playing and singing songs I wrote in front of groups of strangers?
The answer is simpler than you might think: There’s a lot of hiding involved. In a physical sense, there are a lot of obstacles between me and the audience. There’s my guitar, there’s a mic stand, there’s a music stand or a tablet (because I can’t memorize my own songs to save my life), and there’s usually a fair bit of space. But I do a good bit of hiding apart from those physical barriers as well.
When I’m on stage, I’m often playing a character - an exaggerated, almost flanderized version of myself. Think about Jerry Seinfeld in Seinfeld or in Drake & Josh. Those performances chose certain aspects of the actors’ personalities to amp up, to the point that they were playing caricatures of themselves. What I do is, I would like to think, at least a little bit more genuine than the examples I’ve given, but it’s still acting, and it’s still hiding.
Humor is a hiding place as well. My stage banter in between songs is peppered with self-deprecating jokes and the occasional quip making light of the topics of my songs, many of which were written from a place of deep pain, confusion, longing, or regret. I do this partially to try and break the tension of the often heavy content of my songs, but I also do it to ease my own anxiety about what the audience might think of me. It’s tough to tell if they like the songs, but if they think my jokes are funny, I’ll hear them laugh.
I realize as I’m writing this that it sounds like I’m just putting up wall after wall after wall whenever I perform, and that’s kind of true. But all that hiding creates a sort of nest where I feel safe enough to open up.
The thing about introverts is that we actually do want to connect with people—some of us just have somewhat of a hard time doing so. Performing music gives me an avenue to connect with people in a way that I just wouldn’t be able to otherwise. As I’ve said, my music is deeply personal, and as I sing my songs and talk about the experiences and thought processes that those songs arose from, I am sharing a piece of my soul with whoever is there to receive it. I share stories of the kinds of losses and failures everyone experiences, and I also share glimpses of hope. I’m not going to walk into a room full of people and have deeply personal conversations with each person, connecting with and encouraging them one by one. I don’t have it in me. But if the room has a stage in it, or even just a corner with a mic stand, I have a safe place from which to connect with the whole room. If you’re an introvert, and you think, I could never perform on a stage in front of all those people, I think you might be surprised. It’s safer up there than it looks.