Don’t be scared to walk alone, and don’t be scared to like it.
“Last night I was all dressed up and waiting on my blind date to arrive. He never showed up. It made me feel ugly and unworthy and abandoned. I thought he may have seen me from a distance and bailed. All sorts of negative thoughts were running through my mind. Then, as I left the restaurant alone, I heard a little girl ask her mom if I was a princess. It made me smile and changed my mindset. I decided to walk the long way home, and I truly took it in – the fresh air, the peaceful solitude, the moonlight glistening off the sidewalk. And I realized being alone right now was exactly what I needed.”
Those are lines right out of an email I received this morning from Diane, a new course student of ours (I’m sharing this with permission). Her feelings of loneliness, and then her willingness to embrace being alone, is both inspiring and a wonderful reminder for all of us. Because sometimes being alone is exactly what we need, whether we realize it or not.
The truth, however, is that an astounding number of people in this world hate being alone. Perhaps all of us do at some point or another.
We fear being without friends, family, or a partner. We get anxious about traveling alone to strange places, and being lost without anyone to hold our hand. We fear taking on life without a shoulder to lean on, for fear that we’re not strong enough or good enough to stand on our own two feet.
This is natural – this resistance to being alone. We’ve all felt it deep down in our own way, though we often try desperately to ignore and deny it. And this is one of the greatest causes of our stress…
To avoid being alone we’ll socialize endlessly, online and offline. We’ll date, and even marry, someone who isn’t right for us, just to have someone to cling to – someone to fill up the empty space in our lives. We’ll watch hours of TV, or stuff our faces with junk food, or buy toys we don’t need, because these things are replacements for love… especially self-love.
The secret to turning things around? Awareness and acceptance.
We have to open our minds to the empowering nature of being alone.
We tend to see solitude as grim and imprisoning. But in fact the exact opposite can be true. Solitude can be seen as freeing, as an opportunity for exploration and growth – an opportunity to get to know and love yourself, deeply.
Like most of us, though, this is something I’ve learned the hard way. For many years I feared being alone, but I gradually strengthened my emotional self-sufficiency, and now I love it. The more I’ve experienced and explored my own feelings of loneliness and uncertainty, the more I’ve realized how necessary these feelings are. It’s good for us to spend time exploring unknowns by ourselves. It gives us an opportunity to discover who we really are and what life is all about.
Being alone is nothing to fear. Solitude is beautiful.
Here are some things that happen when you embrace it:
1. You develop strengths you need, and didn’t know you had inside you.
Whenever I tell a coaching/course student that they need to embrace being alone, they usually say something like:
“But don’t you think the thought of being alone is scary… to go through life by yourself when you feel uncertain about things?”
Yes, it can be very scary. And that’s precisely the reason to learn to do it. Sometimes the scary things are the right things. Sometimes the situations we don’t want are the ones we need to grow. Embracing this may be painful at first, but nothing in life is as painful as staying endlessly stuck in situation you don’t belong simply because you are too scared to walk alone for awhile.
Likewise, it’s always better to learn to stand on your own two legs, rather than have someone carry you around your whole life. And once you are self-sufficient, then relying on someone else from time to time is an act of strength, not weakness.
Don’t know how to manage your finances and your life? – Start by educating yourself. Read one book on personal finance, one chapter at a time. Teach yourself life management skills, one at a time. Become self-sufficient, gradually.
Don’t know how to defend and protect yourself? – Learn to avoid dangerous situations. Learn to be aware of your surroundings. Learn the basics of self-defense. You’ll feel more and more confident walking alone with each passing day.
Regardless of what skill set you’re trying to strengthen in yourself, the key is to take small, consistent steps in the right direction, day in and day out.
Journeying through life alone is a learning process – you become stronger as you go. It’s like a kid who can’t find her way home when she’s alone – doing it the first few times is daunting and scary, but in the long run she’s safer and better off having learned the way. (Read Daring Greatly.)
2. Your relationships grow stronger, with less codependency and entitlement.
Does learning to be comfortable with being alone mean you can’t be in a relationship?
Not at all. But if you aren’t comfortable with being alone – if you absolutely need another person to align with your every need – then you aren’t going to be comfortable in your relationship either.
Because you will become codependent and entitled. When your actions and thoughts revolve around another person to the complete disregard of your own individuality, that’s codependency. When you believe another person inherently owes you something, that’s entitlement. Both of these relationship traits are viciously harmful.
What you need to remember is that a healthy relationship never limits you… it doesn’t restrict you… it doesn’t try to change you… it doesn’t entitle you, or anyone, to anything.
People are sometimes led to have a sense of entitlement because they mistakenly believe they are owed something based solely on the social role they have chosen. For example, if someone has accepted the role of being a person’s friend, girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, or husband, they feel entitled to get certain ‘favors’ from this person. If someone has accepted the role of being a parent, they feel entitled to being respected by their children. If someone has accepted the role of being a customer, they feel entitled to be served to their unique needs.
But, as it turns out, there are no hard-wired entitlements in life. And this is especially true of the love present in a healthy relationship.
Too often we associate love with limitations…
- “If he loves me, he will change.”
- “If she loves me, she will do what I say.”
But that’s not real, healthy love. Not even close.
That’s the breeding ground for codependency and entitlement.
What we need instead is a healthy dose of self-sufficiency.
As Jim Rohn once said, “The greatest gift you can give somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, ‘If you will take care of me, I will take care of you.’ Now I say, ‘I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.’”
3. You learn that aloneness does not mean loneliness.
That’s right, being alone does not mean you are lonely, and being lonely does not mean you are alone.
One can be truly lonely in the midst of a crowded room. Wouldn’t you agree?
Thus, the trouble is not always in being alone – it’s being lonely in the presence of others.
So keep this in mind and choose your relationships wisely. It’s always better to be alone than to be in bad company. And when you do decide to come back for someone, do so because you’re truly better off with this person. Don’t do it just for the sake not being alone. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
4. You find the intellectual space to support your own decisions.
Everyone you care about does NOT need to support every decision you make. When you are surrounded by others 24/7, this truth can be hard to embrace.
Friends and family won’t always support your goals, but you must pursue them anyway. Follow your intuition. Following your intuition means doing what feels right, even if it doesn’t look or sound right to others. Only time will tell, but our human instincts are rarely wrong. Even if things don’t turn out as you anticipated, at least you will learn what you needed to learn, and you won’t have to spend the rest of your life wondering what could have been.
Ultimately, you know you’re on the right track in life when you become uninterested in looking back, and eager to take the next step, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
5. You get to mindfully experience more of YOUR life.
One of the hardest challenges we face is to simply live in our own skin – to just be right here, right now, regardless of where we are. Too often we needlessly distract ourselves with anything and everything: food, booze, shopping, television, tabloid news, online social networks, video games, iPhones, iPads, etc. – basically anything to keep us from being fully present in the current moment.
We use compulsive work, compulsive exercise, compulsive love affairs, and the like, to escape from ourselves and the realities of living. In fact, many of us will go to great lengths to avoid the feeling of being alone in an undistracted environment. So we succumb to hanging-out with just about anybody to avoid the feeling of solitude. For being alone means dealing with our true feelings: fear, anxiety, excitement, uncertainty, anger, joy, resentment, disappointment, anticipation, sadness, and so on and so forth.
And it doesn’t really matter if our feelings are positive or negative – they are overwhelming and exhausting, and so we prefer to numb ourselves to them.
The bottom line is that every one of us is an addict, and what we are addicted to is avoiding ourselves. Acknowledging this addiction is the first step to healing it. So begin again right now by just breathing, alone, and noticing with curiosity, and without judgment, all of the little ways you can simply BE in your own skin, right here, right now, in this present moment we call life. (Read The Power of Now.)
Solitude can be a scary thing, but it can also be a joyful thing.
You CAN learn to enjoy (and grow from) the times when you’re alone…
You can get to know yourself. You can do things that rely on very little external influence – reading, writing, walking in the woods, playing guitar, singing in the shower, dancing in your bedroom, learning something new, etc. You can discover hidden parts of yourself and the world around you without needing to instantly share it or get someone else’s approval to enjoy it.
Be alone and be at peace.
You deserve it.
The floor is yours…
What do you like about being alone? What concerns you? What’s something encouraging you try to keep in mind when you’re alone and up against uncertainty? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights.
Photo by: Jamie Frith
Being alone allows me freedom. As I was backpacking in the Montana wilderness with some girlfriends – I thought “It’s going to take someone amazing to take away this freedom.” Being alone means being able to do what I want and grow a variety of friendships. However, I’d rather be on my own than with someone who takes away my freedom. It’s optimal to find someone who wants to share that freedom.
Lin Newsome says
My girlfriend invited me to join her on a week long business trip to Hawaii. She didn’t believe for a second I would accept the invite. Not only did I accept but, stayed on the island “Alone” for the next 15 days. This was absolutely one of the best decisions in my 62 years of life. Being alone to explore, meditate/pray, laugh with a stranger, long walks while enjoying the peace & beauty of the Big Island in HI, I wouldn’t exchange for millions of $. Of course I had fear initially. Being alone made me face many issues that I’ve made excuses & exceptions for including people & myself. I will forever embrace my alone time wherever I may be.
Most of the time I feel I’m alone because I simply don’t fit with anyone. I feel they are not for me. It’s like you keep waiting for a “meant for you” person who will never show up. It’s like waiting for someone with whom you can truly be comfortable, who will understand you no matter what,who won’t make you feel “I’m not enough” …..I feel ill never find a true friend in this world.
I like being alone because the person I like seems to not like me and the person I don’t like seems to like me. I don’t want to make myself feel uncomfortable being with someone I don’t like just to not being alone, and I don’t want to waste my time chasing over someone that I think stops having interest in me.
Being alone actually is not so bad. A few great things that I gain when I am alone that I really like are that it makes be becoming very productive, attentive, and curious about things. I also notice I learn and read more.
What scares me from being alone sometimes is the future. Being alone forever is scary. What if I am alone forever. But at the same time, being alone trains one to be more independent and knowledgeable, which ultimately things that are attractive and make someone to be successful. And these are also things that encourage me to be alone.
Vandana, I hope this comment does not seem late or preachy. I completely understand your feelings about not feeling like you fit in with others. I have felt that way too in different seasons of my life. Right now, I am undergoing some healing that mainly only God and I can do. I do have some supportive friends and family, but they can’t help me through some of the healing that I need. I pray that you find peace and love through my friend, Jesus.
Growing up, as a child, i remember that i liked bread, id have bread – toasted with butter. and it always cut or scratched, cause mum always toasted it way too much, eventually i stopped eating bread altogether. when i got married my husband liked it toasted with scrambled eggs, and ever since that’s how i always made it. after 8 years together, we grew apart and separated. i dint know what i would do with myself and wallowed in the pain of being alone for the longest time.
Now that i am JUST ME , no one is judging or making suggestions about what i should do and how, this freedom was scary at first, and all of a sudden i had way more liberty to do what i want, than i had ever known.
I sat myself down and tried eating bread in various forms – toasted / with eggs, with butter/ without butter, grilled , with cheese, with peanut butter, with milk…n a few more…i realized that i like bread n butter just warm, soft , slightly golden brown.
I finally know how i like my bread.
This was a big realization and i am now taking the time to get to know myself, what i really like , unadulterated without obligation or expectations.
That’s awesome! Thank you for sharing. 🙂
It’s New Year’s Eve where I am (I’m located in Asia), and I am sitting in front of my laptop, in an empty house with no one to celebrate the countdown with. Reading this post (and all its comments) gave my mixed feelings on how I should react to my current situation. My peers (I’m 26) have seem to found their partners, going steady, some are even married with kids and here I am, all alone on New Year’s Eve. Sometimes I feel lonely even in the presence of others, which was why I slowly began to drift away from my friends whom I feel I no longer have anything in common with, since their priorities leans towards partners.
I keep telling myself I am perfectly fine to be on my own. That I am not built to be around people. That the solitude is more welcoming than it is not. However, there is still a void in me that demands to be filled. Yes, I have my own hobbies. I run, I play some video games, read online articles or novels. I even go to the movies alone. But at some point I wish that there was someone doing those activities with me. I have embraced being alone, I am no longer afraid of doing things on my own, but what comes after that? Do I go out and find some sort of companion? Do I stay this way forever now that I have learned to be on my own and be comfortable with myself?
Indeed at some point of life, we do feel alone. I absoultely agree that by embracing the fact of being alone, you have acknowledge the fact and it would not bother you so much. Having friends (the right company) and hobbies are important to help you cope. Even if your friends have enter another stage of life and have no time for you, you can always find new friends or learn new things in life. If you do not embrace the fact of being alone, I’m sure you will be sad all the time. It is just a passing phase.
I am alone. And as comfortable as I am with my own company, I feel distant and alienated.
I am a middle aged woman, divorced with children at Unversity.
I have a very full life – a good job, lots of active hobbies, friends. But when I come home, my world is silent and isolated.
I think of all the things I would like to share with someone. But it wont happen. I get lots of married guys hitting on me. It’s not flattering, and its somewhere I just don’t want to go. I did meet a really nice single man, but he completely friendzoned me. I suppose a decent man would not be interested. I often wonder what is wrong with me that I have to be alone.
I live my life to the full, but still feel an aching emptyness inside me, a need to feel cherished and cared about. I have embraced being alone, but how do I get rid of this feeling? Then I would be truly free.
Julie, I feel what you’re saying. I’m 44, recently divorced, and trying to figure this thing out. I’m determined to just learn to love myself and my own company. As I type, I’m sitting in the window of a random Ben & Jerry’s in Suburbia, Tennessee, watching people stroll by as I read, write, and drink coffee. (Might have had a scoop of chocolate) I miss sharing with my ex. But that’s in my past. Some things that have helped me……
I take mental pictures of wonderful moments instead of recording them with my phone. Or it if do take a pic, I do it through a journaling app, and I write a narrative explaining why that moment was recordable.
I strike up conversations with ransoms people when it’s appropriate.
I go see movies on my own, and I do it pridefully. The same with eating out.
Long drives and walks are great companions. Just make sure you gas up.
You’ll be better than ok. Take it one moment at a time and learn to fall in love with who you are.
After 32 years of marriage, my husband divorced me. At first I was glad he was gone and did a few “victory” dances in the living room for freedom. After a few months, reality…especially when the car breaks down, coming home tired from work and still have chores to do because I raise chickens and ducks to sell eggs, supper, etc. and no one to talk to. So I plunged my rejected heart into finding another mate….failure and rollercoaster of emotions…ugh. Then I quit, gave everything to God and made myself be quiet and just do what I needed to do. After a little over a year of being divorced, I found out my husband had Stage 4 cancer. I asked him to come home and let me take care of him, after all, I made a vow to him. We were remarried after a month and that was the best five months of our entire marriage. He wanted quality of life so he refused chemo. We fished, hunted, camped as much as we could. He was active to the end and died at home. I believe God had me go through that time of being alone to prepare me for caring for my husband. I had financially worked my credit score to qualify for the home, was paying off debts and almost debt free. Now, I’ve been widowed for 16 months. Right after my husband passed away, my pastor recommended that I quit my job. I needed time for my mind to adjust. Being married 32 years, divorced then remarried and widowed within 18 months is a lot to bear. I did need the time alone and to grieve. It’s is hard to let go of things, especially when my family was not supportive or caring. I had to forgive and let go, forgive and let go…over and over. I highly value, appreciate and love the friends who have been right with me through this mess. Being home alone these 16 months and working on the things I’ve wanted to do, I’m now ready to move forward, and meet new people. Being alone is hard, but dang, I’m a lot stronger, confident, have goals to work at because they are what I’ve wanted to do in life and I give everything to God. Sure, I don’t have much money, living on his SS, but I have my dream to move forward in this life and I’m working it and loving it!
John Doe says
I think you will be ok once you keep that positive attitude about the future. As they say, ride it til’ the wheels fall off.