I have posted before about some of the common mis-conceptions of introversion. Since writing that post I have responded to still countless mis-fired comments about how it is a choice, and that you can ‘overcome’ introvertedness and become more confident or outgoing (extroverted) etc. If this is what you believe then I urge you to go back and read that post again or to read the original article by Carl King about the 10 Myths. Sophia Dembling posted an interesting article about this too, in which she points out that rather than seeing introvertedness and extrovertedness on the same spectral line we would do well to consider them as differing spectrums, reflecting the different temperamental wiring in the brain.
I wanted to address another issue, which is tied in with the myths but also occupies its own space within this area. It is to do with performance, and whether, let alone how, you can be both an introvert and a performer. Surely if you’re introverted you would be too scared to get up on stage and sing in front of people?
There is a lot of confusion as to why introverts would choose to entertain and whether those performers we get told are introverted are indeed introverted at all. Again, this is a false understanding of introversion and it might surprise you that many of our most beloved entertainers are introverts. If performers are all simply exhibitionists who want to be the centre of attention then we might as well all go home now. That is a very superficial and demeaning view of art’s purpose, power and importance.
For many of us, it is actually an outlet for something working within that needs to be released, and speaking from my own experience, is a highly rehearsed and comfortable thing to do. But I don’t want to get bogged down in a discussion of who might be an introvert and judging them and whether they really are etc, that makes no difference to me.
After working out that I was an introvert I thought long and hard about this question. How was it that I felt so comfortable and even energised standing on stage and performing, yet I found groups of people, unfamiliar environments and forced socialising awkward and energy sapping? Was that not a paradox? What was the difference?
I am asked countless times whether I get nervous about going on stage, whether I find it really nerve-wracking to perform in front of people, and why I bother at all. I do get slightly edgy about that yes, but that is not the thing that makes me nervous and almost resent the idea of going to play gigs. The thing that puts me off is not actually the performing. If anything the idea of performing excites me. No, the thing that has from time to time nearly metaphorically paralysed me from doing what I love to do is everything leading up to and surrounding the moment I take to the stage. It is the arriving at and finding the venue, meeting promoters/other performers, not knowing what the logistics of the night will look like, sound-checking, what I’m going to eat, where I’m going to position myself during the evening etc. I imagine this is the case for many people, but at times I find it almost overwhelmingly draining. Not fear-inducing, just energy-sapping.
Sometimes I hope that no audience turns up. Not because I get nervous about playing to big crowds, but rather because I never feel comfortable in a room full of people. Once I’m actually on stage I want the room to be full, and in fact am more comfortable playing to a load of strangers than if it were just a few close friends, but I can often feel my energy flow away before I hit the stage if I have to be social as I prepare.
When on stage I feel comfortable because I know what I’m doing. I’ve played the songs hundreds of times and have done countless gigs. I have the confidence in what I’m doing and can draw on my past experiences to get me through the process. I have all the necessary tools within and generally don’t have to cope too much with the fact that the situation is kind of social. I can enter into a space that is beyond the present, a place where there could be no-one or there could be a million people, but it wouldn’t matter because I know what I’m doing and can do it with my eyes closed.
I can imagine this is not just applicable to introverted performers but that it extends to many occupations in which you have to stand up in front of people, whether it be teaching, leading, caring, managing etc. We can often become convinced ourselves that it is the performing part that we are nervous about, where actually it is the networking, the meeting, the standing about making small talk with strangers, etc that causes our minds to fear the scenario. It is the things that are out of our control, and also beyond our mind’s visualisation. The ‘performance’ can be practiced, honed and visualised because it is down to your own preparation, and I think introverts are generally very good at getting themselves into the zone in which performance is comfortable. The socialisation part is a lot harder to do this for, especially if you are in an unfamiliar environment.
Do you have to ‘perform’ in some way?
Do you get nervous? What about?