Jessica Pan has always been an introvert, but she’s curious about what it would be like to live like a gregarious extrovert. So, for one year, she embarks on a journey to see how the other half lives and challenges herself to say yes to any social situations that come her way. Sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come is basically Yes Man but with a quick-witted female protagonist.
“Some people are great at talking to strangers, building new relationships and making friends at parties. I’m really good at other things, like loitering palely in dark doorways. Disappearing into sofa corners. Leaving early. Feigning sleep on public transport,” Pan writes.
While extroverts tend to focus on external sources of stimulation, introverts focus on internal feelings. Introverts usually need to be alone after a lengthy social visit, while extroverts get their energy from social interactions.
I can totally relate. While I love hanging out with family and friends, I always feel like I need time alone to recharge. Pan also says that typically introverts like to be prepared: “I like knowing what to expect, even for the simplest of things. I read reviews before staring a TV show, do extensive research to find out the best dish to order at a new restaurant and check exactly how long a cab ride should be”. Another introvert attribute I can relate to. I have done all these things, as well as researching (read Facebook-stalking) new people before I meet them, spending hours online trying to find an email address so I can avoid making a phone call, and only ordering food if I can do it online.
The other half
Extroverts don’t seem to have this problem, they like the adventure of picking an unfamiliar dish at a new restaurant or casually chatting to the pizza guy on the phone. Pan realises that she is going to need some help if she is to live like an extrovert for a year. She seeks the advice of a few experts to help guide her on her extroversion journey.
The first person she asks for advice is Stefan G. Hoffmann, director of the psychotherapy and emotion research laboratory at Boston University. Hoffmann challenges Pan to ask strangers on the Tube the following: “Excuse me, I just forgot. Does England have a queen and, if so, what’s her name?”. You’ll have to read the book to discover the answers but let’s just say that most Londoners seem to be stuck in the 1800s.
Asking people on the Tube random questions is only the beginning, next Pan signs up for a class called How to Be Sociable, she performs live on a programme called The Moth, she tries to find friends via Bumble’s friend feature, begrudgingly attends networking events, and enrols at a stand-up comedy class for beginners.
Self-confidence vs social anxiety
During all these challenges, Pan comes face to face with her social anxiety. Something introverts tend to have more of when compared to their extroverted counterparts. But it turns out having a bit of social anxiety is completely normal. “We are social animals. We want to be accepted by our peer groups and we do not want to be rejected. If people do not have any social anxiety, something is seriously wrong with them,” Hoffmann explains.
Pan faces her fear of public speaking by performing a comedy set in front of a crowd at a bar, numerous times. “I’d faked confidence, and by doing so, created it. It really did feel like a feat of wizardry.”
Wizards and witty TV shows
Pan not only references Harry Potter throughout the book but also mentions Gilmore Girls. And seeing as how this blog started with the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge, it deserves a mention. “It’s the right amount of funny and the right amount of sex scenes (nearly zero) to make for ideal parent-child viewing,” Pan writes.
Pan and her mother visit her father in the hospital, and she recalls the scenes in Gilmore Girls where Rory and Lorelai had visited Richard when he had a heart scare and, later, a heart attack. She explains that she and her mom wasn’t as close as Rory and Lorelai when she was growing up but that their bond got stronger as she got older. “Maybe we aren’t Rory and Lorelai, but in that moment it feels like we kind of got there in the end. It’s just that I had to be the one who was thirty-two, not her.”
Introvert, extrovert, who cares?
The changes in her relationship with her mother show how Pan’s perspective has changed. She used to be embarrassed by her mother talking to strangers wherever they went, but now Pan was doing exactly the same thing (like asking strangers on the Tube about who the queen is).
Psychologist Brian R. Little argues that “our personalities are not fixed or exclusively determined by nature or nurture; instead they can change as a result of action”. While Pan changed the way she lived for a year, she discovered that we shouldn’t label ourselves as introverts or extroverts. “I’d felt like introvert and extrovert were labels that might not serve me any more,” Pan writes. Maybe we can be a little bit of both.
I really enjoyed Sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come and found all the fear-inducing challenges very relatable. The Gilmore Girls, Harry Potter, and Brené Brown references also made me feel like Jessica Pan would be an awesome like-minded friend to have. So much so that I’ll probably only cancel plans with her by using a migraine or food poising as an excuse once in a while.