Me, myself and solitude

Appreciating the importance of being alone

David Matos, Associate Arts and Life Editor

Illustration by (Amanda Riha)

Cut the chit-chat and focus on the most important person in your life — you.

The everyday person often fears the thought of being alone. Being perceived to be lame, lonely or even — in more extreme cases— a menace to society is a legitimate concern to the average person. Some people have no clue what to do with themselves when they’re not in the company of others, and more are hesitant to be left alone with their own thoughts. Humans are social creatures, so it’s completely normal to crave the gratification of being surrounded by your peers. However, allowing yourself to take a step back from society can be a good thing.

According to an article in The Atlantic, Jack Fong, a sociologist who studied solitude said, “When people take these moments to explore their solitude, not only will they be forced to confront who they are, they just might learn a little bit about how to outmaneuver some of the toxicity that surrounds them in a social setting.”

We often force ourselves into a prescribed box crowded with societal norms and expectations when we’re in the company of others. Being around people often means playing a part to fit into whatever social situation we find ourselves in. Take, for example, when you’re in a job interview — you might find yourself talking in a unique professional tone of voice, sitting in a more upright position with your ankles crossed, spewing strategic answers to the interviewer’s questions in hopes of landing the job.

If you’re in a social gathering full of new people around your age, you might act completely differently than if you were surrounded by family or friends. We are all guilty of putting on a particular mask to better adapt to the environment we’re in. It’s not until we’re alone that we can remove our imaginary mask, and set our truest form free.

Letting loose without the natural fear of judgment is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have. Sometimes, I want to eat my ribs messily and not have to worry about the excess barbecue sauce that has escaped my mouth. Other times, I want to release my inner Gibby from “iCarly” and walk around unapologetically without a shirt. Everyone has personal needs, and some of those needs simply cannot be fulfilled within the presence of your peers. It’s a separate issue in itself, but we all fear being embarrassed or judged by others, and until society can remedy itself in that regard, expressing yourself to your fullest capacity might stay confined to a detached environment.

How everyone chooses to spend their alone time can differ from person to person. I personally like to pick an old television series and binge-watch it from beginning to end. Some people choose to spend their alone time meditating, listening to music or working out. Being by yourself might even be a great time to explore your creativity. I’m not the greatest artist, but sometimes I like to just doodle in a notebook to pass the time. Writing my thoughts into a journal to release some buried feelings can also be extremely healing.

Even doing absolutely nothing, unrestrained from everyday social cues, can lead you down an enlightening path. I’ve personally had my biggest epiphanies when I’m left with nothing but my own thoughts at night in bed or even the shower. Having the time to focus and reflect on nothing else but yourself can help you explore your own passions and desires in life without the interference of your peers.

Most of us desire that eureka moment when we finally find what we’ve been searching for in life, and having time put aside for reflection can be the best way to reach it. Aside from soul searching, being by yourself can also be a great opportunity to recharge your social battery.

From my own personal experience as a long-time introvert, having quality alone time during the day is quite reenergizing. I value the 30-minute break during my eight-hour shift at work as I spend that time isolated. Time away from the demanding social environment of my retail job allows me to better perform during the remainder of my shift when I clock back in. Talking can be exhausting sometimes. Though it might come more naturally to some, coming up with the right things to say can be overwhelming. We all deserve to relax those vocal cords and prepare for the next round of conversations on the battlefield.

We also tend to perform better when we’re isolated. A  study by the University of Calgary claims that workers are more efficient at completing their tasks when they’re left secluded. Being free of social stimulation when you’re completing any responsibility is a great method to execute any activity to its fullest potential. When I was training for my cashier position at my retail job, I found my performance improved when I was left to my own devices in contrast to when another associate was peeping over my shoulder the whole time.

However, doing too much of anything is unhealthy, especially taking too much time for yourself. Keeping yourself away from others for extreme amounts of time can cause you to unlearn any social skills you’ve previously developed, making functioning in a society that requires human interaction so much more difficult. Reflecting on your personal problems by your lonesome is important, but tackling them head-on is even more so. In order to fully commit to self-care, balancing your social time and private time is essential for a healthy mind.

Being alone is not an easy task. We are all guilty of wanting that gratification of social interaction, especially coming out of a time when we were completely isolated in earlier lockdown precautions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s no shame in that. However, there’s no need to feel liable for just wanting to be alone from time to time. Plan a movie date with yourself, blast some music and paint or take a longer route on your way home from work one day. There’s no one way to have me-time, but you’re the one person in your life that deserves the attention that only you can provide.