My Reflection on a Year of Extroversion, Intro

At the end of 2015, I tried to formulate a list of notable occurrences over the past year that helped me grow as a student, as a designer, and generally as a person. I realized that many items on this list occurred as a result of a very conscious decision made mid-2014 to conquer my shyness and fear of people, and to acquire the ability to navigate social situations with ease.

I wanted to share the story about the steps I took to achieve this goal, and how I might have ended up selling a small piece of my soul in the process.

For a long time, I thought that extroversion was like a happy meal that came colorfully packaged with a “free” gift, or in this case, a set of traits and skills: charisma, confidence, charm and with them, success. Unfortunately, this thing called extroversion seemed to require me to dabble in a place largely outside of my comfort zone, a place in which I needed to actually interact with strangers and those outside of my innermost circle. The horror. To put a little of it in perspective, even during the early days of university, I would have trouble looking into the face of a cashier to order a meal and would often spend the first hour of class hyperventilating, attempting to pull up the courage to ask a question to my professor in front of my peers. When asking the question, my hands would be visibly shaking, as well as my voice, which would suddenly decide on its own that maximum volume could not be higher than anything heard by a mouse. I actually only recently realized that sometime in my sophomore year, I spent the entirety of my first design industry event as well as the meal afterwards completely mum silent with a group of people that a year later became some of my closest friends.

A photo of us, from last June.

Long before this photo, there came a time that almost seems like a lifetime away that two relationships that I treasured crashed and burned within the same month, one with a dear friend that I considered almost like family and one with an ex who left saying he wished I could have been more sociable in our time together. A combination of heartbreak and deflated sense of self-worth, along with the constant stream of professional advice from my mentors saying, “network, network, network” propelled me to try and change who I was to fit into a persona that was socially valued and liked. I started off with five minute conversations with people sitting next to me in class or standing next to me in lines at cafes. I would make it a goal to talk to three new people at every design event that I went to, and I found out that asking questions really helped get a conversation going. Then, I started to count the seconds that I could hold someone’s gaze during a conversation and tried to STOP. LOOKING. AT. MY. SHOES. For the first few months, I messed up. a lot. My friends and I laugh about some of these earlier times because it usually involved ridiculous embarrassment for me, which would then later became fodder for the next funny party joke. I wasn’t good at it in the beginning (and sometimes, I still fuck up) but have since then, learned how to speak and present confidently in large gatherings and have encountered some of the most wonderful individuals and experiences by just feeling a little more comfortable initiating a conversation. Social anxiety is a real thing, but in the end it’s not about how many people there are or who they are, but about communicating a message.

Extroversion: the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self — Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

By all accounts, 2015 has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. Although this is a small reflection on what I learned through year from the perspective of attempting what seemed to be level 500,000 of life (sophisticated schmoozing in public) I also will talk about how I forced myself to stop feeling as a way to experience less fear and how this was detrimental to my mind and way of thinking. It is a reflection on my activities through the year as a whole, as I spent a good half of it traveling, accented with insights on the strong benefits of “extroversion”, as well as a warning on how attempting it with the wrong mindset can be harmful. I made concrete goals to overcome shyness and depending on how you see it, overcame it and then met A LOT of people to come to the realization of how much I valued my own introverted tendencies.

I want to stagger my thoughts in a few parts, the first being Extroversion in Travel.