I distinctly remember a conversation I had with one of my friends in high school as we were applying to colleges. We were talking about how different life was going to be, but how we were certain we would stay the same. I remember her saying, “I don’t understand the concept of ‘finding yourself in college, it sounds so strange. I know myself now and will continue to know myself then too!” I remember nodding my head vigorously in agreement. It felt like an absurdity back then, what don’t you know about yourself that you are going to “find” in college? Now, actually being in college has taught me many life skills, from how to get dressed and make it to class in under 15 minutes to how to write an essay in 24 hours for an 8 a.m. deadline. One of the most important things it has taught me is how to be comfortable being with myself; essentially, college has helped me find (more about) myself.
While college life is filled with being around friends, roommates, and people in general, there are more moments you realize you are completely alone. Looking back, I definitely took the time I spent at home in high school for granted, where there was constantly someone present, be it my Mom, my Dad, or my sister in their own rooms. While I did a lot of things by myself then, I knew they were always around and grew up hearing them go about their daily routines. Now, I have a lot more time in silence, where the people around me are often strangers, like note-takers beside me in class, or neighbors with who I share awkward smiles. In all honesty, it felt scary to think I had vast spaces of time where I was left by myself and had to fill in the time –– and I was lonely. Until I realized I wasn’t… I was just alone.
Over the last three years, I’ve learned so much about the person I am, the things I value, and the people I want in my life. While I am sure I would’ve gotten to these realizations given any other situation, I think the learning curve and the way I got to them, which was by spending time with myself, are what’s important. Being alone with thoughts in your head can seem bizarre because one might argue, “I always ‘hear’ the thoughts in my head, it’s just what I’m thinking!”, and sixteen-year-old me would have agreed. The difference, however, is actively engaging with yourself and getting comfortable with being alone. There is a whole other kind of support that comes with being comfortable in your own skin. By this, I mean spending time doing things by yourself that don’t include distractions that stimulate your mind to think about something else.
To some people it means meditating or going on walks, to others it might mean reading a book or painting your nails. To me, this time comes from doing household chores. Be it washing dishes, doing laundry, or vacuuming around my apartment, this is when I’m able to spend the most time with myself. Sometimes, it’s when I’m grocery shopping and planning out my meals for the week, or the window of time I’m getting ready to go somewhere. Instead of putting on a TV show to watch in the background or playing some music, I choose to do the task in silence, where the only sounds that surround me are the ones that come naturally. This is when my thoughts flow to me in the most authentic way possible, and when I’m most able to interrupt and discern any negative or self-sabotaging thoughts. A lot of people associate being alone with being lonely. They think if they’re alone, they don’t have a lot of friends, but there is beauty in being by yourself. There is something wonderful about knowing yourself and understanding who you are as a person, and it is what I can only guess is a constant journey that comes with giving in to yourself and spending time with you.
If this sounds too abstract, you may not be open to or comfortable enough with yourself yet to truly get to know who you are, because that’s where I was coming from for all these years. I think being alone is a privilege not many people have in our busy lives today, where we’re constantly being bombarded with emails, responsibilities, and the constant “dings” of our phones that take up all the space in our minds, but making this time and taking a second to be with yourself is time I guarantee you’ll never regret spending.