I’ve always considered myself introverted.

Back when I was nine years old, my mom would force me to talk to retail clerks so I could be comfortable having conversations with strangers. Even though the interactions would take less than a minute and everyone was extremely friendly, I dreaded each and every one of our trips to the mall. Whenever I was sent to summer camps, I was too scared to say anything on the first day. I always thought that I could just wait for someone else to initiate a conversation with me or for another person to answer the instructor’s question. And at school, I always loved spending time alone, even if I had friends I could talk to. My lunches would consist of me sitting alone outside, soaking up the nature and thinking about whatever had been happening in my life.

While I do think that it’s completely fine for us to be introverted, society has been structured in a way that favors the extrovert. The louder people are, the more confident they appear to be and thus, the more attention they get. In fact, I’m sure that if I asked you to think of the character traits of leaders or CEOs, “shy” wouldn’t be one of them. But, I didn’t want to push myself and become that bubbly, outgoing person that everyone was telling me to be. I was satisfied with my close group of friends. Just by the nature of how middle school worked, I was slowly becoming more and more comfortable speaking to new kids, teachers and strangers yet I still found it to be very draining.

It wasn’t until I started going to conferences that it suddenly hit me that I needed to change. How the hell was I supposed to spend hours networking with experts in various fields who likely knew way more than me about whatever we were discussing? If I find it tiring to sustain one conversation with a stranger, how could I have the endurance to do it for entire days on end?

After doing a quick google search, I realized that the impossible was possible.

Introverts can become extroverts.

And so, I began my journey of pretending to be extroverted. While it was definitely a struggle and I’m still far from becoming my ideal extroverted self, I will say that I have made immense improvement over the course of the past couple of years. Here’s a few pieces of advice which I have for anyone else who’s trying to become less of an introvert (and believe me when I say that some of this stuff is not easy):

1. Actively focus on improving one aspect of your social skills each week

So I wanted to become extroverted but… I had no clue where to start. To prevent myself from getting overwhelmed by everything, I decided to focus on one goal every week. Whether it was opening up to people about insecurities or doing embarrassing things in public, I would always come up with something challenging that would push me out of my comfort zone.

You’ll find that all these little goals will eventually add up in the future. If you found a task particularly challenging, then do more things like it! You’re ultimately the one in control of choosing what to improve, so make sure that stay on top of things. And if you end up “forgetting” about what you had to do that week, come up with some sort of system to punish yourself. I know for me at least, the most difficult part of this process was finding enough motivation to actually do it.

2. Throw yourself into environments where you’re forced to socialize with people.

Now you’ve probably seen a lot of people say that you need to “ease into it”, but from personal experience the opposite has been WAY more effective.

At one of my first networking events, I still remember looking around the room and having a great amount of anxiety when I realized that I would actually have to… well, network. I ended up wasting a good half hour just standing around the snacks while watching other people have interesting conversations.

After approaching one of my friends and telling them about my problem, she just pointed to a random person and told me to start talking to them. And for the rest of that evening, I forced myself to overcome that first barrier and introduce myself to whoever she pointed at. Yes, I was still anxious and yes I did get shut down sometimes, but everyone was still really nice. I didn’t die, I wasn’t kidnapped, and I had even started developing relationships with some of the people in the room.

The point is, you’ll sometimes need that extra push where you have to be put in stressful situations in order to improve — I can confidently say that these types of scenarios actually helped me the most. If you’re still kind of iffy on how effective it would be for you, just try it at least once! You’ll definitely start getting the hang of dealing with the stress and anxiety and you’ll be stunned by how fast you’ll grow.

3. Learn how to be good at talking

I’m not saying that you have to become the world’s best debater, but it definitely helps if you can practice public speaking. A couple years ago, I joined my school’s debate organization. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the abilities of thinking on the spot, speaking about random topics for long periods of time and just saying things in a coherent manner could all be directly translated to everyday life. After practicing debate, it became a lot easier for me to sustain conversations with others and I just knew more about how the world works in general. Best of all, I became comfortable with speaking in front of large audiences, especially after having the experience of debating on stage at nationals.

4. Fake it ‘til you make it

Honestly, I think a lot of “becoming extroverted” comes down to acting. It’s just like a big game of make-belief! I actually found it really fun when I tried to have a certain personality in front of people I haven’t met before so I could see what worked best for me. As long as you don’t stray too far from what makes you unique, try seeing what it’s like to be super bubbly all the time or what it’s like to be like a leader, for example.

When someone doesn’t know you, think of it as a blank slate. What do you want their impression of you to be? How do you make sure they can walk away with that impression? Make sure you answer all of these questions and then practice actually executing your plan. That being said, don’t lie to others about who you are. You want to stay true to yourself while also exploring possibilities of who you can be.

So, those are my four tips to anyone trying to become extroverted! Like I said before, it’ll definitely take a while for you to reach your ideal self, but never give up.

Also, don’t worry if these tips aren’t for you — everyone’s different and we’re all going to find our own strategies for breaking out of our shells :) Whatever technique you use, whatever goals you have, I wish you the best of luck on your journey to become an extroverted introvert.

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