Empowerment Through Solitude
Have you ever gone an entire day without speaking to anyone else? The only words you have uttered from your mouth all day are the lyrics to an ear worm on loop in your head while you shower, mumbled comments to yourself about the weather or a string of expletives when you kicked the corner of the bed frame. Maybe you also held an imagined Late Night Show interview in front of the mirror and practiced the charming answers you would give to Stephen Colbert when you became famous for who knows what. Not that I’ve ever done that.
Depending on who you are, this might sound like the worst day ever or the best. If you had described a day like this to me six months ago, I would have cringed and shuddered. I am an honest to goodness extrovert. That’s not to say I never liked being alone. I relished long walks and quiet nights in reading a book or watching a movie without the interruption of another person’s loud breathing or incessant comments.
But I liked being alone in moderation. If I was alone for more than a day, my mind would immediately begin to go into panic mode: “Why am I alone again?” And it was just a downward spiral from there. I tried to reason why I wasn’t hanging out with anyone. Maybe everybody hates me? Do people find me annoying? Oh god, maybe I said something stupid without realizing it and offended all my friends and now they never want to see me again. You know, the usual anxiety riddled thoughts you have when you wake up in a sweat in the middle of the night. “I’m in my twenties! I’m supposed to be living out my youthful glory days! Going to parties, going out dancing, going on dates, making plans, making mistakes!” is what I would anxiously tell myself when I felt I had been alone for too long.
It’s true, I am in my twenties and I should be seizing as many new opportunities and experiences as I can. But it’s not a race to do ALL these exciting things at once. When you pressure yourself to have fun, things stop being fun. Being alone is not a weakness or a sign that you’re a socially inept person. Even if you like being on your own, social media and pop culture creates a negative stigma around being alone. And yes, enjoying your own company doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone. It can take practice and confidence to acquire. But it is an invaluable skill that can teach you so much about yourself.
When I lived in a small town for a co-op this summer, I would come home after work and not speak to another soul until I arrived at work again the next morning. At the beginning of the summer, I would scramble to make contact with friends in Victoria, sending texts, memes, making plans to call. Basically anything that reassured me that even though I was alone in this house, I wasn’t really alone. But I hate texting and I don’t really like talking on the phone. I still called and texted friends, but only if we both really felt like it, not because I felt like I had to prove to myself that, yes indeed I still have friends.
My job required me to be “on” all day. I worked at a museum where I was interacting with visitors all day and my throat often hurt from non-stop speaking. Eventually, I would look forward to coming home from work and just being silent. I started getting creative with my time alone, trying new recipes, taking up yoga, exploring the nearby river valley. It was a slow, almost unnoticeable progress, but by August, I loved being by myself. I was able to sort through my thoughts and feelings on my own, and gained a whole other level of comfort and trust with myself.
When you’re by yourself, you have to learn to like who you are because you’re all you’ve got. It’s simultaneously empowering and humbling. You realize what you like about yourself and you definitely become aware of what you need to work on. I found that I have gained confidence in who I am since learning to be alone, and it’s carrying into my academic and social life. I’m not riddled with the same level of self-doubt and I’m far more willing to try new things and take new risks, but also conscious of the changes I would like to see in myself.
Maybe for some people reading this, the beauties and strengths of solitude are obvious. Maybe you’re a born introvert who’s reading this going, “duh”. But as many students are entering their twenties, the pressure to be social and to be this idealized version of “young” can be suffocating. In an age when media and technology constantly keep us connected to each other, it’s important to take a step back and just be yourself without fear of judgement or criticism. Let your imagination run wild, daydream, observe your surroundings, and just let thoughts come and go. You may be surprised how much you can learn about yourself when you just let yourself be.