The Art of Being Alone

(I wrote this for a class and I think it might be interesting to share).

I often struggle between being alone and feeling lonely. I have come to create a habit of using social media to make up for the fact that sometimes, I feel utterly alone. Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT, explains this phenomenon in her Ted talk, in which she talks about how we fail to connect in real life so we use social media to feel connected somewhere else. But gradually, I realised that the idea of being alone bothers me more than actually being alone. Solitude has a terrible stigma and too often looked down on, while it’s actually very healthy, even needed for personal development.

Back in Hanoi, I used to have this routine of occasionally taking myself out on a “date” to cafe Cong. The best time to start is at 8AM, when the coffee shop just opened. You can inhale the fresh coffee-filled air from the table on the second floor. The best part is, you are alone and nobody can distract or take that moment away from you. I once spared a Sunday morning taking the bus alone for hours to strange streets, taking photos, smiling at people, occasionally conversing a sentence or two about the weather with the person next to me. It was one of the most peaceful experiences I have had. Being alone is an art of its own. It gives you time to contemplate. It’s when we completely focus on ourselves that we learn about ourselves the most.

If you’re afraid to be alone, be patient with yourself. If you’re afraid people will think less of you, try places that are “acceptable” to be alone like the library, the gym, or the church. No one can judge you for engrossing yourself in literature, running to the rhythm of your own music, or seeking peace and sanctuary. Try to resist reaching for your phone because that might be the source of you feeling lonely from other peoples’s life updates. Nowadays, with the culture of distraction, we’re constantly staring at screens of all kinds, and being bombarded with all kinds of social constructs. Sometimes, we all seem to move through life from one distraction to another, from phone screens to laptop screens.

Teenage or young adult years are critical for creating an identity for yourself. If you’re not fully comfortable with hanging out with yourself, it’s hard for other people to feel comfortable around you. Solitude brings peace to the mind, gives your head space to think about existence and creates a deeper connection with yourself.

Please don’t get me wrong! I certainly enjoy a wild GNO, coffee sessions with friends, or participate in social events. Social interactions give meaning and interest to life. However, solitude helps you figure out who you are and helps you become your own person. Too often, people, including me, depend on others to complete themselves and be the entire emotional support. When you learn not to depend on others, you can have the time to figure what you like and what you’re truly passionate about.

All those people you think are judging you, given the stigma of being a loner, what does that matter in the grand scheme of things? If you’re happy, then that’s okay. I’d like to convince myself that no one truly cares anyway. You might think everybody is scrutinising you, but everyone is probably too worried about themselves to worry about you.

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