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This Is How To Fake Being Outgoing

When I was seven, my mother tried to force me to take choir lessons, and I was so terrified I cried. I had the same reaction to ballet classes. So it’s safe to say that I’ve always been an introvert; this description pretty much sums up who I am. And growing up, I learned that extroverts were better; well, not necessarily better people, but better friends, bosses, and partners. I blame Disney's The Other Me, the 2000 made-for-TV movie in which some kid's more outgoing clone becomes the most popular guy in school.

I may be older now, but the general idea that “extroverts are better” has stayed with me. As a twentysomething in New York City, I'm constantly surrounded by confident women telling each other to “lean in.” You can’t just be a boss; you also have to exude an aura of confidence. I've felt my introversion holding me back, especially when it comes to speaking up in meetings and making small talk with large groups. “Were you in that meeting?” my boss would ask occasionally. Yes, I was; I just didn't say anything.

So when I saw the gift of “extroversion” in New York magazine’s annual holiday-shopping guide this past Christmas, I decided it was time to actually work on what I consider my introversion problem. I emailed Annie Lin, the life coach mentioned in the article, to see if she could help me.

“I’d be happy to participate and give you some pointers,” Lin wrote back, but warned that becoming an extrovert could take months, or even years. Still, she offered to help me gradually become more outgoing, leveraging my “natural strength.” She signed off with “Love and blessings.”

Eh, good enough, I thought, and scheduled a meeting.


one whose personality is characterized by introversion; broadly : a reserved or shy person / Merriam-Webster
Lin is a quiet, meditative woman with thin, square glasses. Her Upper West Side apartment, where she works with her clients, is adorned with masks from Africa and Latin America, an arrow from Papua New Guinea, and a wall of Smegma records (the band, of course). I arrive expecting something along the lines of a one-on-one improv class. Instead, Lin immediately offers some homemade cake. I politely accept a slice.

After a few minutes of small talk, I ask her what her first impression of me is. “You are a conscientious person, so you are cautious and you are respectful, in a way,” Lin says carefully. Score! “But…you don’t come across as the most relaxed person.” Fair. She asks me what I want out of these sessions.

What a big question. I start to list things: I’d like to be able to handle myself in group conversations, speak confidently and not have to repeat myself, and not get flustered when I’m called on in meetings. And mostly, I’d like to stop worrying about saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, or in the wrong way. “You’ve described classic symptoms of introverts,” Lin tells me. “And the first step is really knowing there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way.”

She hands me a worksheet titled “How to Become More Outgoing.” Under the first section, “Accept the Way I Am,” is a reassuring sentiment: “Both extroverts and introverts can be outgoing or shy. Social skills have to be learned and practiced by both groups.” I’m relieved: I’m not a lost cause.

The second section, titled “Daily Practice,” outlines methods of exercising your outgoing muscles. Some involve visualization, others involve filming yourself while talking to see how you speak and come across. But the main exercises fall under these three steps:

1. Meditation.
2. Practice.
3. Participate. Always.

I pore over the worksheet, reading every little thing that I must do to achieve extroversion. Being an extrovert, it seems, is much more intense than just going to a few parties.

Step 1: Meditate.

“It’s a myth that introverts are better listeners,” Lin says. Instead, we’re oftentimes consumed with the thoughts and worries in our heads. Did I do that right? Did I offend anyone? “If you are having a very busy internal dialogue, it’s difficult to connect if you are not fully relating." Of course, this revelation comes right as I take a bite of cake and start apologizing for eating at an inopportune moment.

The answer to all this self-doubt, Lin says — after telling me she doesn’t care when I eat — is mindful meditation. She believes this will help me first accept the way I am and then work with it.

She explains that meditation is a way to accept whatever insecurities you’re feeling without getting distracted by them. “Our minds constantly bring ourselves back to the moments [we question] and use those moments to beat ourselves up,” Lin says. With meditation, you learn not to question yourself as much, which then helps keep you engaged in conversations.

My problem, though, is that I’m not a meditator. Just ask any guy I've dated — I must constantly be doing something in order to feel fulfilled. I read, I listen to music, I tidy up the kitchen, I do laundry, I get sucked into the wonderful world of puppy Instagrams. I never sit still.

But I am willing to try, so Lin guides me into my first meditation session ever, right then and there amid the masks and Smegma records. I was not expecting this. I find myself fidgeting, itching to check my work email. She tells me to breathe deeply and focus on my third eye — that center spot above your eyebrows that you never think about until someone tells you to meditate. When she asks me to visualize an outgoing person I admire, I do for a little bit — but then start thinking about the meeting I’m missing at work. This goes on for something like 20 minutes, but feels closer to a full hour. I start feeling incredibly anxious.

“Meditation is not an easy habit to form,” Lin says, and it’s true. For the next month, I try meditating daily — and fail miserably. First I download Lin’s guided meditation session, an audio file I can play on iTunes, only to find the soothing music distracting and the session itself way too long (25 whole minutes!). At home, I try meditating in my room, but the cars honking on Second Avenue prove to be overwhelming. I end up cleaning instead.

I decide morning meditations aren’t for me, so I try it at night. It’s even worse. If my boyfriend is visiting, I feel awkward breathing deeply while he does work next to me, so I put in headphones and send him out to work in the living room. I try to meditate on my bed (since I don’t have a chair), but instead, I fall asleep. This happens at least three times.

The highlight of my meditation sessions is a particularly productive Sunday, when I co-opt my sister’s much quieter room while she’s on a run. I get through the full 25 minutes (well, 10 minutes in, I check my phone), and call it a day. Success! I've learned how to meditate.

Unfortunately, one semi-successful meditation session does not make an extrovert. I email Lin for help.

“Try not to judge if you have a ‘good’ meditation or not, as the purpose of meditation is to allow this moment to unfold in whatever form that takes,” she writes back. “Showing up and sitting through five minutes (or however long you decide) is a success itself.” I decide to try out the app Headspace, which guides me through mini 10-minute sessions, so I can try meditating during an upcoming 16-hour flight to Taiwan.

This method feels more doable — the narrator asks you to count your breaths up to 10 (easy!), and sit there and let your mind wander. I succeed once or twice, and feel refreshed afterward, but my biggest discovery is that meditating is an excellent way to naturally fall asleep on planes.

Step 2: Practice.

I then tackle the biggest part of Lin's extrovert worksheet: practice. This involves writing daily goals, rehearsing in front of a mirror, mental rehearsals, and visualization — not to mention all that meditating.

I rehearse asking my tutoring clients for a raise. “I wanted to talk to you about compensation,” I say to myself while applying my makeup. (Note: I get the raise.)

I also attempt to email Lin a goal every day. My goal on New Year's Eve, for example, is to “have at least one great group conversation with people I don’t know.” Lin’s response: “Practice to project your voice in a group setting, and use your gestures to help. Have a presence, and don't be afraid to take up space.”

To help me work on presence, Lin recommends I go to improv class. “Introverts tend to speak softly and it’s a quality that lots of people value, but in a large meeting you have to sometimes be a little more entertaining.”

Improv to twentysomething me, like choir to 7-year-old me, or ballet to 8-year-old me, is terrifying — it's unknown, and it requires me to speak up and to be on a stage. At the insistence of another Refinery29 editor, however, I cave and sign up for a free intro lesson at the Magnet Theater.

Here are some bad habits that come to light during improv class: I stand with my arms crossed a lot. When nervous, I turn inward, minimizing the amount of space my body takes up. I really, really hate making weird noises and singing in public (both of which are popular exercises in this class).

Here are some good things I learn: Surprisingly, I am actually okay at improv because I naturally say “yes, and” when people make jokes. I do this a lot in real life — mostly because I’m not particularly witty, and never know how to respond. Plus, some of the exercises I can actually do. Say your name and pull off a superhero move of your choice? Done. (I chose jazz hands.) Before I leave, one of my scene partners even says we should meet up and do it again. I smile politely and make a noncommittal noise, thinking, Nope. Too exhausted. Sorry!

Surprisingly, though, I'm really glad I went. It’s encouraging to know I can get out of my comfort zone. I interview speaking coach Dawn Fraser on tips to becoming more vocal in conversations, and as it turns out, improv is not only great training for leaders, but also helps with everyday small talk.

“Talking with other people is similar to improv,” says Fraser. “You always want to affirm whatever statement or story has already been told and build upon it. You want to show that you’re listening and affirming what they say, and then, ‘Oh, that reminds me of x, y, z time.’ You are ‘yes, and’-ing.”

Fraser asks me to play a game in which someone gives me random words, and I come up with stories based on these words. I practice with another editor, and it's pretty easy. "Subway" leads to a discussion about Tokyo's women-only cars. "Tab" sparks a conversation about Pocket, an app I recently discovered. I do okay, especially since these are words that naturally come up in conversation. I decide to practice again with my boyfriend. He gives me "Pilobolus." (What?) Thanks a lot, John.

Step 3: Participate, Always.

Of course, practicing can only take you so far. After a while, I figure I just have to go out and talk to people.

I start by taking baby steps. I sit at conference tables in meetings, instead of in the back of the room, which I find makes speaking up easier. I try to express opinions earlier, so I don’t spend the majority of the meeting questioning whether I should say something. And two months in, I force myself to be as extroverted as possible. It’s right around this time that I realize something crazy — I actually crave meditating, a moment of quiet. So I start again, 10 minutes a day. And, believe it or not, I think it helps. I feel refreshed, focused, and not distracted.

One night, I go to a crowded bar 30 minutes before my boyfriend shows up and chat with a stranger. A stranger! He offers me fries (success!). Over the weekend, my mother visits and we celebrate the Lunar New Year with some of her friends. Being extroverted in another language (Chinese) is a challenge, but I manage for a few minutes before heading off to watch TV in another room.

The following Monday, I meditate in the morning and feel recharged for the week. I grab dinner with my friend Sam plus two of Sam’s friends. I “yes, and” one woman’s purchase of the domain, by asking, “Did you read that article about the new basic bitches of fashion?”

Tuesday I have another meditation session before work, and then at night I head to a networking event 30 minutes before my friend Shoshana arrives. I talk to three strangers and two friends-of-friends. The “yes, and” approach is easier here: “Blowjob Pop Rocks? Wait, is that…”

After each night out, I text Sam and Shoshana. “How extroverted was I? Slash, how awkward was I?” I ask Sam over text.

“You were fine, but you apologize too much. Lean in, apologize for nothing, rah rah,” Sam texts back.

“On a scale of 1 to 10? I would say 8,” Shoshana says. “Very extroverted.”

She then tells me that she had always thought I was an extrovert, in some ways. Perhaps I’m not as bad of a socializer as I thought.

Finally, my last hurrah. On Wednesday, I go to not one but two events with my boyfriend — a networking event for food journalists, followed by a party Shoshana is hosting at a bar. At the party, I strike up short conversations with three strangers and learn the secret of talking at a loud, crowded bar: Yell in the direction of just past someone’s ear, but not in their ear. Did everyone know this but me?

This is also where I meet a self-identified extrovert who tells me he was out last night and didn’t go to bed until 6 a.m. On a weeknight! “Don’t you ever get tired?” I ask. “Don’t you ever want to just escape to an island for a few days?”

“I tried that once,” he says. “After one day, I was like, Maybe I should go out today.”

He tells me about going out for four nights in a row, getting sucked into the nightlife scene, and always having something to do.

That sounds awful, I think. I get exhausted just thinking of the sheer number of people he must talk to. It's then that I realize I don’t really want to be an extrovert. Sure, I can be outgoing and I can have conversations with new people, and that’s great. I’ll do it when needed — I now know I can. But after almost a full week of pretending to be an extrovert, all I really wanted to do was go home and sit in bed.

As I cut the night short and head home on the train, reveling in the quiet solitude, I finally recognize that despite all my events, social activities, and networking sessions, what Lin was really telling me to do was spend more time alone — meditating, practicing, and just being in my mind. "The whole process is about self-understanding," she says. "Understanding and discovering and being curious of why your body needs rejuvenation."

This is why I’ll probably still meditate every now and again, especially when I find myself faced with back-to-back social events. It’s also why I won’t be shaming myself for not going out on a Friday night, or for leaving a party at 10 p.m. — you know, before it gets good.

I distinctly remember the initial advice on Lin's worksheet: "Accept the way I am." No, I'm never going to be the social butterfly fluttering from a networking event to a dinner to an after-party. Yes, I'm still a little jealous of how easy socializing seems for some people in my life. But after a full week of acting like an extrovert — and nearly a month of preparing myself — I'm happy to say that I no longer wish to be one. I'd much rather replace that loud, crowded bar with a night in with a few friends, a bottle (or four) of wine, and a great slice of brie. Now if you need me, I'll be hibernating for a full week.