According to a 2014 issue of Science magazine, participants across 11 studies would rather give themselves a mild electric shock than spend 15 minutes alone.
That’s just insanity.
But in some ways, I’m not surprised. For starters, we live in a society that tends to celebrate extrovertism. And to be clear, the state of being alone is different from the feeling of loneliness. Sometimes, they’re linked. But I’m here to declare you can be alone without feeling lonely, bored or sad. In fact, I think it’s just the opposite!
Being alone is a magical thing. It has taught me so much in three major areas of my life: My relationship with myself, my relationships with others and my career. Let’s break it down:
When you’re not afraid to try things solo, you’re building your independence, self-confidence and resilience.
So you want to try that new restaurant? Grab a table for one. Dying to see the latest blockbuster? Hit the theater by yourself. Interested in learning a new skill or hobby? Sign up solo! I think you’ll be surprised by what you might learn about yourself by taking on even the smallest acts of independence. And overcoming the weird looks you may get (but probably won’t), is actually kind of empowering.
In late August – early September 2017, I embarked on a 9-day road trip through Michigan and parts of Canada. When I told friends and family my plans, I received a lot of gasps: “What? But why are you going alone?!” They were worried for my safety (which I appreciate) but I’m glad I didn’t let their reactions influence me. It was a trip of a lifetime. I played trivia with some folks from England, enjoyed poutine and local beers at a dive bar in Montreal and hit the hay in some odd, tiny and ecclectic AirBnbs.
When you head out on your own, you learn to be highly observant and appreciate (and look forward to) the quiet moments.
Without your friends and family by your side, you also get really great at forming your own smart opinions. This is such a rewarding, and oftentimes unforeseen, fringe benefit of “going it alone.”
Need a few ideas? Consider some inspiration from Women’s Day: 25 Things to Do By Yourself.
“So, why are you single?”
Let’s talk about being alone in the sense of being single. Ah, I’ll try to be brief.
I’m in a relationship now but I was kind of always known as the perpetually single girl. And I used to hate being asked, “Why are you single?” Every time, I’d have to suppress my inner sass. My preferred answer was: “Well, because I’m a strong independent woman who believes finding true love with a great partner is a rare thing. Add to that, I value my time and would rather not waste it alongside someone less than mediocre.” But in the interest of not scaring off nice people who I know meant well, I’d usually just shrug and mutter something about how I’m too busy, blah blah blah.
But now I am in a relationship. Shortly after meeting my boyfriend at Christmas this year, my dad remarked, “Huh. Yeah. We were starting to wonder if maybe you were a lesbian.” He was serious, and I thought this was hilarious. I spent most of my 20s alone and partner-less (albeit happy!). I thought my dad’s theory was amusing but I also thought it was interesting insight into how people view those not in a relationship. (i.e. “What’s the deal with her?!”) If you’re reading this and you’ve been single for a while, I bet you know exactly what I’m talking about.
One thing I know for sure is that if you can’t handle being alone – if you depend on being with someone (or anyone!) – you should not be in a relationship at all. Work on doing things for and with you, and the rest will fall into place in the best way possible.
I am not sure if I’ve found professional success because I’ve been single, or I was single because I was focusing on my career – perhaps it’s a little of both. But there’s no denying the fact that being alone meant I was able to focus on the things I really, really wanted and cared about.
Last year, former UW Badger basketball player and current NBA hopeful Bronson Koenig penned a letter to NBA GMs. This excerpt really spoke to me:
“I’m good on all that,” he said. And then he proceeded to tell me something that I wasn’t expecting. He told me that if I really wanted to be successful, that I had to be O.K. with being alone, with staying home and working on my craft to the point of it becoming an obsession.”
-Bronson Koenig, Dear NBA GMs
Of course, when it comes to being alone to the point of obsessing over your career goals, you run the risk of living an unbalanced life. I hope nothing I’ve written has come across as an ode to disowning your friends and family – they’re crucial for success and happiness! But that seems to be obvious to most people.
Stop fussing over what could go wrong or what people might think. Just do it! Jump head first into cold water. Who knows what you might find?