"I’m an introvert posing as extrovert" is the self-diagnosis of our time. It’s often reeled out as a get-out-of-jail-free card when we choose the sofa over after-work drinks. True introversion means more than time alone to recharge. It’s a personality trait which means you can’t take stimulation for long periods of time. But just how fixed is it? That’s the question Jessy Pan – who identifies as a shy introvert (or 'shintrovert') – sets out to answer in her new book.
Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come documents Jessy’s year of doing things that would make the skin of any shintrovert crawl. Things like talking to strangers (on the Tube), solo travel (to a surprise location) and stand-up comedy (exit stage left). The catalyst for Jessy’s experiment was the realisation that she was jobless, friendless and saying no to so many things that her world had shrunk.
Jessy had me at "Hello, what's the name of the Queen of England?" The question is part of the author’s first challenge, which involves getting comfortable talking to strangers, and getting over the fear of sounding dumb. It makes her cringe, but it also makes her realise that breaking London’s unwritten social codes will not make the world fall apart. Later, she finds herself telling a story to a crowd of hundreds of people, making the first move on friend dates through Bumble BFF, and even taking magic mushrooms in a Bulgarian forest.
Like the author herself, Jessy’s account is warm and funny, peppered with just the right amount of self-deprecation to make you laugh, without ever feeling sorry for her. Internal pep talks before each challenge really capture the hilarious but painful mood of the book, like "I’m social lubricant, I am the pinnacle of Debrett's, I am Nigella" ahead of hosting Thanksgiving. Her findings will make anyone – introvert or extrovert – think about how they interact with others. Throughout, there are learnings: "the key to charisma is matching the energy of the person you’re with" and "networking is actually about giving, not getting".
At year’s end, Jessy hasn’t become an extrovert as such (she says she will always prefer one-on-one conversation and we won’t see her at Glastonbury anytime soon). But her world has expanded by letting chance encounters in. She has new friends, a new hobby (improv, no less) and new wisdom about confidence and communication. She’s shared some of it here.
It’s always tricky to know if why we’re saying no to something or cancelling is self-care or self-coddling (out of pure laziness). It has to be a personal call each time, but I do think it’s important to cancel when you're feeling anxious or overwhelmed by something else going on in your life. But I also know sometimes when I’ve cancelled or not shown up, I probably would have felt better if I’d got out and talked to people and had some real-life interaction. I think it might be more useful to try and assess whether you want to go to something at the time of being asked.
On friend dating
Make the first move and make the second move too. I found on Bumble BFF I’d match with women who were really cool and interesting, but there was always this awkward lull where neither of us would want to ask the other woman out. When I made that first move people were like: "Yeah let’s totally do that!". And afterwards, if you like somebody just suggest another meet up. It’s so tricky to find people you have chemistry with, so if you have a nice time with someone there's nothing to be lost by asking them out again.
Don’t go late, because then it feels that everyone’s already in a conversation and you’re more of an outsider. If you show up to something late you don’t give yourself a chance to warm up and meet people. For me, it was useful to go in having an exit strategy so if it’s bad, you can leave.
On good conversation
Surface talk is admin, the weather, our commute, day-to-day work. Deep talk is our desires, vulnerabilities, wishes and dreams. In networking, often we stick to really surface talk. I’m not saying you should dive into deep vulnerable talk with someone you’ve just met, but being interested in other aspects of their life or asking more thoughtful questions will a) give you more information about that person and b) connect you more. Every day I think about deep versus surface talk and ask: "do I want to go deep with this?" If it’s my accountant, then probably not.
On talking to strangers
A compliment is great to open with. If I saw a woman and I really liked her shoes or bag or lipstick I would say so (I probably wouldn’t do that with a man as he’d probably think I’m hitting on him, and I’m married). Or if you’re in a shared situation – like an airport and there’s a delayed flight and everyone’s miserable – it would be more pleasurable if you talk to people around you and complain about how bad the situation is. Nobody waves, but everybody waves back.
On public speaking
Practising in front of someone else was the most important thing for me. You still feel nervous and anxious as their eyes are on you. But it means [that ahead of the real event] a lot of that anxiety of someone observing you and thinking you’re crazy will dissipate.
On faking it 'til you make it
Psychological studies say that by the time we’re 30 our personalities are fixed. When I read that I was devastated because I thought all my anxieties and insecurities were with me forever. But there’s a psychologist called Brian Little who says that both nature and nurture influence our personalities and who we are. We can completely change ourselves by what we do, which makes sense to me. If you do more things that scare you, then you will change. Human beings are made to change, and we can be bad judges of what we think we’re going to like.