My confidence was at an all-time low. I’m an introvert and I had always celebrated being one but I realised that I had started to use that introvert label as a license to say no to everything – and the more I stayed in, it seemed that the more scared I was of going out.
A little more than a year ago, I became a freelancer. I started working from home alone all day, and this coincided with many of my friends in London moving away, getting married or having kids. It hit me suddenly: I was lonely, sitting on my sofa, watching the world go by.
At a particular low point, I thought: what if I lived my life like a gregarious extrovert for one year? If I said yes to things that I usually ran away from?
So I made this list: talk to strangers, go on friend-dates, take improv classes, host a dinner party, perform stand-up comedy, travel solo to make friends on the road – basically all of my nightmares – and I gave myself a year.
Good news – I survived! Here are eight things I learned from living as an outgoing extrovert for one year:
1. Sharing our vulnerabilities brings us closer together
I took a class called “How to Be Sociable” – embarrassing name, but amazing evening. Our instructor explained the difference between Deep Talk and Surface Talk. Surface Talk is chat about admin, commutes, the weather, what we’re doing at the weekend. Deep Talk is about our hopes, dreams and fears. To really make meaningful connections with others, we have to engage in Deep Talk. And then the instructor demonstrated this by pairing us off with a stranger in the class and having us confess embarrassing things to each other. Of course, I had to be paired with a handsome stranger, but amazingly, it worked. We bonded over sharing our vulnerabilities, rather than acting like everything was great in our lives or boasting. Throughout the year, I would try to dive into Deep Talk with new friends as much as possible to really form a connection with them.
2. A social support network can help you achieve amazing things
I attempted stand-up comedy, the “Everest” of my year. I don’t think I would have been able to do this at all if I hadn’t signed up for a beginner’s course and made amazing friends there. The fear around performing really bonded us together and we all supported and helped each other so much. Previously, I always wanted to do things on my own, convinced it made me stronger, but letting people into my world made the experience so much more fun and rewarding.
3. Nobody waves, but everybody waves back
I have this fear of talking to strangers, and of initiating the first move, like inviting someone that I want to get to know better for a drink. Throughout my year, I interviewed “extrovert mentors” to guide me along the way and a psychologist told me that when we are in a group situation and no one is talking or being open, everyone remains closed off, but as soon as one person initiates talking (or a new idea, or a suggestion to go to the pub), the ice is broken. Soon, other people will be brave enough to join in – it’s just that so often, we need to be the first one to take that first step. Hence, nobody waves, but everybody waves back. This year taught me to be the person who waves first.
4. The difference between self-care and self-coddling
Before I started my year though, I’d use self-care as a convenient excuse to say no to everything that gave me even a whisper of anxiety, especially if I was feeling down. But so often, going out with friends, being social or meeting new people can often be the solution to the blues. I love self-care and even though I spent the last year being social, I still made time for myself – but I tried to be honest with myself. Was I saying no to something because I was lazy and whipping myself up into an anxious state for no reason and would going actually make me feel happier?
5. Confidence often comes after you do something scary, not before
For my entire life, I’d always had a fear of public speaking. I hated class presentations and performing, but this year, as part of my experiment, I told a story in front of 900 people at Union Chapel in London. It terrified me, and I was convinced that I’d have gain confidence before I could even attempt it. I rehearsed a lot, I did lots of breathing exercises, I met with a speech coach – but the confidence only came after the performance. Now I know I can do things that scare me, even if they give me anxiety.
6. Extroverts are favoured in many aspects of modern society
One third to one half of the population are introverts, yet extroverts are better at self-promotion, which leads to more recognition at work, and because of their social nature, they often have wider social circles, which brings more ideas and opportunities their way. Instead of letting these facts get me down, I used it to motivate me when I went to networking events. I could be an introvert, but channel the powers of extroverts in those moments.
7. Loneliness can strike at any age, but with effort we can overcome it
Research says we will have the most friends between the ages of 25- 29 – after that we start to lose touch with friends and our social groups shrink. When we are in our twenties, it’s hard to imagine this will ever happen to us, which is why it’s so difficult to deal with when it happens. But moving to a new city or certain circumstances can cause loneliness no matter what age we are. I found that making new friends was possible as an adult, but it takes proactive effort. Chemistry is so important in friendship, so when you find someone you click with, be ready to make the first move and the second move, too. I used the app Bumble BFF and also met friends in my comedy and improv classes – and initiate Deep Talk with them.
8. We are often bad at judging what we will like
We often limit ourselves by telling ourselves things like “I’m not the type of person to throw parties” or “Speeches? I don’t give speeches.” But oftentimes, we don’t know what we might like unless we try it first. I was convinced I would find improv cringey and embarrassing, so it was an enormous surprise to find out that I loved it. I also really enjoyed hosting a dinner party, but previously had been too scared to try it. I would never have known that I loved these things if I hadn’t taken the leap to try something completely out of character.
There are plenty of happy, successful content introverts out there, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for them. For many years, I was one, too. But by trying out things that I normally ran away from (at high speed) for one year, I have more confidence, less social anxiety and some amazing new friends.