I sang happily and often when I was young, and that was just great until some adult or other noticed that I had a pretty good singing voice. Then I’d get pushed onto a stage for school assemblies, and that’s when it was no longer fun. I’d start calculating how hard my head was going to hit the floor when I fainted or whether I was going to puke in front of the whole school. I never lost that fear even though I happily sang hymns to my college pals when we got drunk, or sang around campfires, sang in the garden, sang at the top of my lungs with all the windows open.
When I was in 2nd grade, I went to a school assembly and “Vince”, a 6th grader, a very, very tough 6th grader, did a solo of “Beautiful Dreamer”. I was spell bound. Who could’ve predicted that a neighborhood bully could sing like an angel? Nobody was going to laugh at Vince. He’d pummel them for an accidental smile.
I wasn’t sure what I was learning when I listened to Vince sing, but I knew it was important. He seemed to know he could get away with singing pre-adolescent soprano when nobody expected it of him. To my knowledge, he never performed again, at least he never sang in front of me again. It’s one of those memories that stay in my heart, without really knowing why except that it was so beautiful. Maybe that’s reason enough?
But even so, it was the tough boy singing so exquisitely that made the difference. If he could do it, I could do it, and did when it was my turn on the stage. People clapped politely when I was done, and I knew I was safe from school assemblies for another year.
I recently read Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. She makes the point that even extroverts can be shy. Haven’t we all had moments when we felt like the Ugly Duckling? After reading this book, I’m more sure than ever that I’m an introvert, but was left wondering just how shy I actually am. I’ve felt shy. Painfully, achingly shy sometimes. I know the feeling of being lonely in a crowd. Still, I can talk to strangers and have managed talking to hundreds of people at a time. Of course I had out of body experiences in moments like that, but people have told me that I didn’t have Turrets swearing episodes, so it all worked out and I lived to tell the tale.
I recommend Cain’s book. It’s good for introverts who want to feel some validation in an extroverted world, but I wish extroverts would read it too. As Cain points out, it takes both kinds to make the world go round, and maybe if extroverts understood introverts better maybe they might quit trying to make us all get together for brainstorming and teambuilding activities. Real creativity happens when we’re by ourselves. Cain recommends people come up with ideas before a brainstorming session because when people are in a group, they have to take turns in expressing ideas, and often the loudest, most persuasive person’s ideas are used instead of the best ideas.
On the other hand, we have to be able to sell our ideas or they end up in the closet and nobody gets to see them. It would be as if Vince never sang “Beautiful Dreamer”.