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What I'm Learning From Solitude

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There are so many ways to run away from yourself.

In the past 21 months, I've folded myself into things—the bright lights of New York City, into the familiar chaos of parties and events, into the self-inflicted, fulfilling tiredness of being a workaholic.

It was so easy to always be around people—friends, coworkers, friends of friends, dates, boyfriends, ex-boyfriends. And even when I was physically alone, I was emotionally with others. My phone became a crutch, an entry point into endless social stimulus.

A hop, skip and a series of unfortunate romantic events later, I came to realize how terrible I was at being alone. Not just alone as in single, but alone as in alone—with only myself for company. So I set out on a journey to confront that. I quit dating, I quit filling each second of my weekend, and I began learning how to be by myself. The very second I started, I felt intensely uncomfortable, and it was in that second I knew I was on to something. If I’ve learned anything in my Young Adult life, it’s that discomfort begets growth.

I started simply by bringing books, coffee and a picnic blanket to the park. I didn’t invite anyone; I didn’t even tell anyone where I was headed. I wandered and explored and lived exactly by my own time, on my own schedule. There were a few things that became immediately apparent. I learned that I could go a long time without speaking to anyone, and the nagging itch to check my phone does, in fact, lessen over time. Social media is reciprocal in that way—if you stop feeding it, it stops feeding you.

Even though it doesn’t feel like it, I realize now that spending time with myself intentionally is exactly the same as spending time with a friend. No matter what you’re physically doing together, that time bonds you. It’s the culmination of the subtlety and nuanced moments that ultimately build a friendship, and in this case, I’m just befriending myself. I’m getting to know what my mind sounds like when it’s at peace, or when it’s searching for something or figuring something out. I’m learning the ebb and flow of my thoughts and feelings, dynamic and unique to me. This awareness happened passively in the background until one day, I woke up and found that I knew myself better. Maybe not in a logically explicable way, but it’s a feeling, and it’s undeniable.

For someone who considers herself to be self-aware and self-positive in many ways, I’m only now realizing the importance of solitude. I had always treated self-reflection as an active process, a thing that you had to do—like sitting down and thinking about your introversion or extroversion. Analyzing your Myers Briggs type or leadership color. Parsing through your interactions for patterns and trends. And I still believe in all that. But there’s something to be said for the intentional absence of intention, for making the decision to spend time with yourself just for fun and without any pressure to figure things out. It’s similar to how we don’t solely call our best friends for the purpose of troubleshooting or advice.

I’m still on this journey, still navigating my way. My biggest personal triumph thus far? Learning to spend time with myself patiently, not in a hurry to get somewhere else.