This book is Pan’s memoir of a year when she decided to challenge herself to live like an extrovert. She explains that there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert, only she’s an excessively shy one (a “shintrovert” as she calls herself), which means she’s probably missing out on friendships and career opportunities by not engaging more with others. She finds herself feeling lonely and depressed, so she decides to make some changes in her life.
There are tons of these “my year of doing ___” books, and I only wish I was the kind of person who could turn some of my own personal goals into a book. Pan is already a writer and seems pretty well-connected to psychologists, academic, and publishing types who could help her make this a reality. That said, she ends up learning a lot, and the lessons she learns, while not surprising, are ones I could definitely relate to.
Pan sets her own “challenges” over the course of the year, which include talking to strangers, making friends, public speaking, performing stand-up comedy, networking, and spontaneity. I’m older than Pan, and it took me many years to become semi-comfortable with things like public speaking and networking. She’s a lot closer to the person I was around 30 rather than the person I am at 50, so some of her strategies had more relevance for me than others.
She begins, however, with the most basic of challenges and one I definitely relate to: talking to strangers. She reaches out to a psychologist friend, and he asks her what about talking to strangers is she most afraid of. Her answer is that she’s afraid of people thinking she’s stupid. So he advises her to walk up to strangers and ask them something completely and obviously idiotic. It’s a “what’s the worst that can happen” approach, and that made a lot of sense (and was fun to read about).
Other parts of the book that resonated for me were about having more meaningful conversations and making new friends. One of the really simple lessons Pan learns (and applies) is that often people are hesitant to initiate contact, but they’ll always smile or wave back if you do it first. And that we keep to ourselves because we fear imposing on others, but most people, most of the time, would rather be imposed upon than feel alone.
As Nick coaches me through meaningful conversation topics — what do you like about your job, tell me about your family, where’s the most interesting place you’ve been to this year — I realize that I’m a grown woman having a lesson on how to have a conversation.
I also realize that I did not know how to have a conversation with new people.
But if you think about it, no one taught us how to do this. OK, technically, life did, but I’ve come across so many people who are also pretty bad at this: they ask no questions, they interrupt, or they ask too many questions and offer up nothing of themselves.
Talking is what bonds us to other people the most, and we are supposed to learn this through experience out in the real world, but I’d spent that time hibernating with a book.Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come by Jessica Pan
Pan shares her successes, and some of her failures, but with the perspective that she learns something from each attempt, and at least a few of them lead to real friendships, new hobbies, and greater confidence. Pan has a warm writing style that was engaging and easy to read, so it was a perfect travel/vacation read.
I was in Hawaii as I read this, and there were a few times we were on small group tours where I had time to talk to people around me. So a couple of times I stepped outside my bubble and started a conversation with people I didn’t know. Nothing earthshaking, but it’s nice to know you can when you want to. However, we had one experience that made me extremely uncomfortable. Mr. CG and I were eating outdoors at a food truck, and a very loud tourist started asking the food truck server a million cheesy questions, making us cringe (I wished he’d just pick something and stop tormenting the poor cashier). Seating was limited and there was plenty of room at our large picnic table, so his wife sat down near us to wait for the food. Then he yells over to her, “well don’t be rude, talk to those people!” We hated the way he yelled at his wife and we really didn’t want to get into a conversation with him, so we did exactly what Pan describes at the start of her book: we put our heads down, and ate intently and as quickly as possible. I wanted to at least smile at the wife in sympathy, but she quickly disappeared, and we wondered just what had happened there. Should we have made an effort to engage instead of cringing in discomfort?
One of Pan’s chapters was about spontaneity; she notes that extroverts are more spontaneous and introverts like to plan more — I’m not sure if that’s the accepted definition but it’s certainly true for me, so I can’t argue (though I will say it seemed kind of tacked on to the other themes in this book). She challenges herself by signing up for a travel service where someone else picks your location and makes all the travel arrangements, then you get surprised by a spontaneous trip to wherever. I’m pretty intrigued that such a service exists but know that I’d never sign up for it. This was the least successful part of the book for me, in that it wasn’t terribly applicable to every day life in the way the other sections were.
In general, not an earth-shattering book but an interesting one for introverts, and it’s one I find myself thinking about often as it relates to my daily life. Pan takes a look at her strengths and weaknesses, the parts of herself that she values and the parts she’d like to adjust. It’s a good reminder that accepting who we are doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also step outside our comfort zones once in a while.
Interested in a 10 minute preview of this book? You can see Pan tell her story on The Moth.
Note: I read this book because my sister recommended this author (thanks Kar!), and also for the 2021 Nonfiction Reader challenge hosted by Book’d Out.