Jaime Zepeda knows there is something to be gained by spending time on your own that can’t be found with others.
Every time I see someone eating by themselves at a sit down restaurant I really want to walk over and give them a high five. Nowadays it is an act of courage to be alone; it’s bold to eat alone, watch a movie solo, or hang out at a bar by yourself. However it got started, there’s stigma against the loner.
When I was a kid I’d spend hours playing with my X-Men action figures by myself. I’d have a ball. If a friend came over I’d still have a great time, but I knew I could do fine just by myself. I’ll even admit that I spent quite a bit of time talking to myself as a youngin’, and guess what, I was a damn good conversationalist. Today, I still look forward to spending some time completely by myself, with my thoughts, and maybe a book or notebook nearby.
I’m a natural loner, if we want to call it that. The definition of a natural loner is someone who does not require the company of others to do what they want or need. It’s someone who is not alone because they feel outcast, but because it soothes them. It means being OK with watching that artsy movie by yourself because none of your friends wanted to go. It means you taking a book to the park because the weather and the mood were just right. Company is an awesome compliment, but not a requirement.
It gets tricky sometimes. You want to follow your natural instinct to do what you want and not worry about your solo status, but you feel a push back. You feel society telling you, “Nah, dude, that’s weird.” And so you doubt yourself. One time I told the restaurant’s host, “I’m totally waiting for someone, but you know, pretty flaky, so who knows when they’ll get here, so yeah.” I felt compelled to lie in order to prevent the pitiful looks I’d get, the same you get when you tell people you were picked last for tee-ball.
But I really enjoy my time alone, and that’s the most important thing. If being alone helps you recharge, or relax, or re-order your thoughts, then that means it’s a part of you. Just like some need to be surrounded by people, you need your time away from them.
When you think of it, alone time is very rare. You hardly get any time just for yourself, with no people to answer to and no demands to meet. At work, your boss and peers constantly require you to respond to their requests. At home, your partner, kids, and landlord have their own needs, too. Even when you think you are alone there are dozens of ways for others to get a hold of you and your attention through your gadgets. None of that is bad, but it makes you wonder why the lonesome person sticks out so much–you’d think the way we live today would almost require someone to take a stroll by themselves in order to keep some sense of balance.
If you like your alone time, here are a few things you need to do to make the most of it:
- Understand how scarce it is. Alone time is sacred, so whatever time you get just for yourself and your thoughts, savor it. This level of scarcity should tell you one thing: you are not being weird by opting to be alone, but you’re actually taking advantage of something that is hard to find.
- Use it to reflect. Being alone gives you an opportunity to dive into the big questions in life. It also gives you a chance to have a completely blank mind. Either way, you are not thinking about the day-to-day, you are reflecting on your Life. You can do this while walking, sitting, or heating up the leftovers.
- Go at your speed. When it’s only you the speed limit is whatever you want it to be. You can go 35 or 75; you can simmer or sprint. There’s nobody else in the car hootin’ and hollerin’, just you. This and the point above might be why long drives by yourself can be so meditative.
In all, if you feel a tinge in your belly for some time away from it all (away from the tactical stuff, away from the noise), follow it and take care of yourself. That tinge in the belly was not fabricated by you, it is you.
What if you don’t like being alone?
It’s totally possible that you may start cold-sweating at the thought of spending half an hour with no TV, no phone, and no one to talk to. That’s fine, some of us are wired that way. But maybe you can consider this as an opportunity to flex some muscles you haven’t flexed much in the past. Many of the people I know who are not natural loners and find themselves in a position where they have to be alone come out of the experience with a smile. They find out that they actually can be alone, that they are better at using this muscle than they thought, and that even though they hope they don’t need to use it much in the future, it feels good to know they got what it takes to survive and thrive in these scenarios. It’s like finding out you can do a back-flip: unless you join a cheer leading squad you may never need to do one, but it’s kinda cool to know it’s in your arsenal of tricks.
I cherish my alone time most of all because it helps me clear and order my head enough so when I do spend time with the important people in my life I show up fully present and engaged. It makes me miss them and appreciate them a bit more, too. Knowing what it’s like to not be with them reminds me how blessed I am to have them.
Next time you see a feller reading a book at a bar, meet him with a warm smile when he looks up to survey his surroundings. Even better, buy him a drink, because chances are that guy is me (a Maker’s Mark old fashioned, thanks).
Photo: mathias shoots analogue/Flickr