How Karaoke Helped me Discover my Inner Extrovert
You walk into a room full of strangers and it's like you're back at a junior school disco. People are holding drinks, laughing, dancing, and standing in groups that exude the impression of being perfectly in sync. The nearest group has been talking about a show you've never heard of for the last five minutes. You've missed your chance to jump in. Over the years, being an 'introvert' has made it difficult for me to open up and make friends.
According to Fast Company, the idea of introverts and extroverts has been somewhat misinterpreted since the terms were popularised by Carl Jung in the 1920s. In fact, Jung argued that social personality types are more of a sliding scale. In other words, a person can vary between degrees of introversion and extroversion at any moment, depending on the situation.
"There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert," he said. "Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum."
Take the dance scenario but change the context; maybe it’s an event dedicated to something you feel passionate about, a sport you’re good at, or a gig by your favourite artist.
Now you may instantly feel more confident about approaching strangers and starting a conversation. Having a common interest removes you from the sense of dislocation and gives you a purpose.
Even a networking event can have the same sense of intention and purpose — meeting interesting people in the hope of future collaboration. Having the courage to take the leap and talk to a stranger can be a life-affirming experience.
When I arrived at university, I was used to a close-knit group of school friends or one-on-one friendships. I’d resolved to change this — at uni I decided I’d make an effort to be more extroverted and outgoing. I wanted to be friends with groups of people, not just one or two individuals. But I quickly realised that it wasn’t about the people I met — it was about the context, and my own personality.
It turns out I'm not always great with group dynamics. Some people see shyness, others see arrogance and aloofness. This isn't helped by an intolerance of sport-related small-talk.
However, when I started teaching during a year abroad in Kyoto, I was forced to push myself out of my comfort zone. In part, this was due to overcoming a language barrier (it’s hard to be funny in Japanese without resorting to physical comedy — trust me) but a lot of it was also the sense of confidence that came from knowing I had a reason to be there and that I needed support from native Japanese speakers.
Extroversion came to me purely from being in a completely alien environment — as a product of necessity. Suddenly I realised that I couldn’t even work out how to buy a bus ticket without asking someone for help. Being shy wasn’t an option — I had to be loud and gregarious to make new friends. I joined a karate society and constantly needed to ask the coaches to slow down and explain things for me. I became the class idiot.
Yet these experiences forced me to start conversations with strangers, and even groups of strangers. I also got better at self-deprecation. Being bullied into a solo karaoke rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody by a group of drunken Kyoto University students will do that to you.
Being a foreigner abroad taught me that, what I had previously assumed was introversion and shyness back home, partly came from being in an environment where I didn’t need to push myself to make new friends. It’s something that I’ve taken with me — from Japanese classrooms to newsrooms and offices across the UK.
Whenever I find myself in those potentially challenging social situations now, I think back to that year in Kyoto and know that my inner extrovert is in there somewhere. It’ll all be fine.
Unless someone gets hold of that incriminating video of an inebriated foreigner standing on a table in a karaoke booth and spectacularly failing to keep up with Freddie Mercury’s vocal acrobatics.
Breaking out of your comfort zone can be tough.
But once you’ve found your inner extrovert, you just need to, to quote the late Freddie Mercury, carry on.
Carry on, as if nothing really matters.