How COVID-19 lockdowns interrupted this introvert author's journey to extrovert

One introvert tells Tapestry how her journey to live life like an extrovert has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, just as she had become skilled at the “whole leaving-the-house thing.”

Quarantine touted as 'golden age' for introverts, but they 'don't love being locked up,’ Jessica Pan says

Jessica Pan is the author of Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want To Come: One Introvert's Year of Saying Yes. (Submitted by Jessica Pan)

One introvert's journey to come out of her shell and live life like an extrovert has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, just as she had become skilled at the "whole leaving-the-house thing."

"Someone jokingly told me it is the golden age for introverts, [but] obviously introverts don't love being locked up," U.K.-based journalist Jessica Pan told Tapestry's Mary Hynes.

"We don't love living in this terrifying time or having people be sick." 

For several years, Pan was "a happy introvert."

"I would have defined myself as a hardcore, shy introvert. I avoided things like talking to strangers, networking events and going to parties with lots of people."

But that joy quickly faded after she started freelancing and working alone at home most days. 

"I sort of self-isolated before it was, you know, the thing to do. I realized that I was actually quite lonely … and the more I stayed in, the more scared I was to go out. " 

Living like an extrovert 

Pan realized she needed to change her behaviour and set herself a serious challenge: live like an extrovert for an entire year.

First, she just had to figure out one thing — how do grown-ups make friends?

Pan's book chronicles her efforts to live like an extrovert. (Penguin UK)

For much of her life, she had believed the common sentiment that "once you're past the age of, oh, 17 or 18, your days of making close friends are over. Forever." 

"I don't volunteer. I don't participate in organized religion. I don't play team sports. Where do selfish, godless, lazy people go to make friends? That's where I need to be," Pan wrote in her book Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want To Come: One Introvert's Year of Saying Yes.

A cadre of professionals helped coax her out of her shell during the project — and some of their advice was quite counterintuitive, she says.

Where the conventional wisdom urges you to "fake it 'til you make it," or put on a mask of big confidence and the whole world will love you, Pan was assured that such advice could not be more misguided. 

"Obviously, I'm not naturally in love with doing these things, that's kind of why I called them my nightmares." 

Pan said Mark — her "sociability coach" — reminded her that "'we think to be interesting we have to be impressive, but sharing our failure connects us more than sharing our success.'"

That's how Pan ended up learning how to play "vulnerability tennis." 

In this exercise, people take turns sharing the most embarrassing, humiliating and shameful things about themselves with a total stranger.

According to Pan, the teacher's instructions were: "If what you're saying makes you feel like a loser, you're doing it right!" 

'Break the ice'

However, COVID-19 has thrown a spanner into the works, with Pan being confined to her London flat since British Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued stay-at-home orders to the nation on March 23. 

Nonetheless, introverts have a leg up when it comes to being comfortable with quiet time, Pan says.

Her advice for extroverts who are currently locked in "self-isolation hell" is to "not try so hard to socialize online every night, you don't have to be on a video call with eight of your best friends all the time," because it is never going to be the same as meeting up face-to-face. 

"It's a chance for people to talk one-on-one, maybe over the phone, and actually go deeper, be vulnerable, because we're all in this really weird time where we're all we're all very anxious, we all feel very scared."

Although Pan completed her year, and her book, before the pandemic struck, some of the lessons she learned feel eerily prescient. Her favourite bit of wisdom?

"The biggest thing that I have learned from my year living as an extrovert is the advice 'nobody waves, but everybody waves back.' … I realized if you're the first person to break the ice, 99 per cent of people are actually more than willing to talk to you."

Written by Adam Jacobson. Produced by Mary Hynes.


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