by Robert Gillies ’11
I recently had the realization that I’m a little nuts. Where many others choose security and stability in their lives and professions, I choose discomfort, and though discomfort comes in many forms, I live with a most subtle kind: that of being an introvert in a profession that is an extrovert’s dream. Whereas extroverts gain energy from spending time with people, introverts are often drained and exhausted by social experiences, and I somehow decided, in my infinite wisdom, that being a solo singer-songwriter and touring artist would be the best fit for me.
One of the hardest critiques I ever received early on in my career was from an audience member who, after the show, said that though the songs and the performance were top-notch, there was something missing in the delivery, in the emotion. In short, they didn’t get out of the show what you could argue is the most important thing – an emotional connection. My desire to turn inward and my inability to connect with that many people on the level that was needed ultimately lampooned what could have been an incredible show.
As we grow in years we often gain insights into who we are and how we operate, and I’ve always been intensely fascinated by social interactions and why I often don’t understand or fit into them. I discovered over time that I fit quite neatly into an uncomfortable category of people who, logically speaking, really shouldn’t pursue a life on stage: I’m an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs scale and intense social anxiety is my friend.
Songwriting is a very personal form of artistic expression and performing those songs on stage, engaging with an audience both on & off of that very public platform, and maintaining the social life that must needs accompany the profession is intensely exhausting. Many are the day I wish I could just stay at home, drinking my tea, reading my books, and let the world go on without me.
But I realized that not only could I overcome those limitations, I had to. I’m tempted to think that we’re all faced with existential challenges in our lives, challenges that call for us to look within ourselves and re-evaluate who we are, how we operate, and how we can move forward. Those challenges will continue to hound us until we find the courage to confront them head on, but once we do we will discover that life beyond is greater than we could have imagined.
As I faced my fears head-on, those harsh critiques and off-balance shows became learning experiences. I became braver on stage, I took more risks, I opened myself up to new experiences. I embraced my fear of improvisation and played slews of shows without set lists to test my ability to emotionally read an audience. It was, and still is, a very messy experience, but I’ve been very careful to maintain the performer’s veneer; I don’t want an audience to experience a bad show for the sake of my own personal growth.
In the end I’ve accepted that this will be a life-long battle, but I see no reason to believe that there is ever a ceiling on our personal development but the ones we impose on ourselves.
Robert Gillies graduated in 2011 and is now living and working in Oakland, CA, as a touring singer-songwriter and composer. He is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be found on Twitter and Instagram under @robertgillies. Please visit www.robertgillies.com for more details.