“I can’t handle it. What am I supposed to do at home? I can’t talk to anyone!? The hours of TV are driving me crazy. I just keep eating. I need to see people! I can’t stand being alone so long.”
While humans are social creatures, too much interaction can often leave us with little sense of our own self.
In today’s society, extroverted behaviors are applauded and rewarded. And oftentimes, introverted actions are depicted as undesirable.
Just think of any popular high school drama — where the popular kids have tons of friends, participate in sports, and throw parties every weekend. Who are the losers? The kids who sit alone at lunch, like to read, or are happy playing video games on the weekends.
But the truth is — no one fits into just one category. In my own high school experience, I loved reading, took all honors courses, and would happily have spent the weekend watching Lord of the Rings. But at the same time, I was on the track team, part of Homecoming court, and even hosted a few parties.
If we continue categorizing ourselves into one extreme or the other, we lose out on the benefits both sides have to offer.
And while finding a middle ground is beneficial in all things from politics to religion, the extremes tend to win out. The loudest voice is heard. The crazier things, unfortunately, get you noticed.
And so the introvert has been downplayed, discarded, and forgotten. Until you get burned out from too much work and not enough downtime. Until you move to a new city and don’t know how to make new friends. Until you are forced into isolation and go crazy after a few weeks by yourself.
You’re not alone in these feelings.
Most people prefer to go the extroverted route. Even I did. From high school through my late 20s, I scheduled myself full.
A busy life is a happy life. Or so we’re told.
Scheduling an activity every night of the week was pretty common for me. If it wasn’t work, it was friends. If it wasn’t friends, it was family. If it wasn’t family, it was a trip. If it wasn’t a trip, it was the gym. If it wasn’t the gym, it was shopping.
I was constantly in search of the next activity to fill my time. And most of the activities were with others.
Because going to the movies alone is depressing. Going out to eat at a restaurant alone is tragic. Going on a trip by yourself is weird. Going home to relax is absurd.
But what if loving yourself was normal?
What if being alone with your own thoughts for a week was comforting?
What if finding time alone was the sought-after prize after a long work week?
As we get older, many people begin to find the benefits of self-acceptance. I’m still relatively young, just in my mid-30s, but I think it’s time for everyone to find the advantages of introverted behaviors.
When I was a kid, I used to spend hours reading a book or playing my flute. As an adult, I barely found time to do these once favorite things.
Now, working from home, I am able to find time to return to solitary activities.
Spending weeknights home to cook. Relaxing with a book. Calling friends on the phone instead of having to go out. Journaling. Listening to music just to listen. Going for a walk.
When I first started doing some of these activities, I would face resistance. I would fidget, want to stop, look at the time, and think about just turning on Netflix instead.
The difficulty in being alone is that it allows you to really face yourself — and at times it will be uncomfortable.
You may not like who you are anymore. You may not want to face a difficult thought or uncomfortable emotion. You may want to distract.
But choose solitude.
Schedule time for yourself.
In fact, many creative moments happen alone. Playing an instrument, painting a picture, reading a book, studying a language.
You can do these things alone. Just for yourself. But, of course, you also can share them with others — playing in a band, having an art showcase, joining a book club, and talking with others.
But in order to be able to have something to share, first you must discover what it is about you that is you.
If you could choose you first, what would you listen to, where would you go, who would you be?
The richer your life in solitude is, the more you develop yourself, the more you learn on your own, and the more you have to share with others.
Look at this time of “alone-ness” as the ability to recharge your own battery, to reconnect with your soul. Introverts naturally gravitate towards these activities, and I believe if we truly value self-actualization, we would encourage these behaviors in others as well.
My time spent reconnecting with myself has led me to play my flute more, discover a new book series, and return to my joy of writing.
But I’ve also learned my sense of self-worth does not depend on how many people I see each week or how many social media posts get liked.
My self-worth comes from simply being me. And yours does, too.
For all you extroverts out there, I know self-isolation seems like a nightmare, but it doesn’t mean it has to last forever. Choose a day, a time, a week where you choose to practice solitude.
Little by little, day by day, the time spent alone will become a valued treasure.
Time well spent can be time spent alone.