As you read this, I’m flying back to The U.S. from China. Alone. While I was there, I ran a marathon. Alone. I stayed in a hotel room alone (mostly). I wandered around Beijing alone. I sat down to eat at the local restaurants alone.
This is normal for me.
Sometimes, people ask, “Tyler, wouldn’t you have more fun traveling if you had someone to go with?”
And my answer is always both yes and no.
Traveling with a friend or someone close can be a really rewarding experience. You don’t truly know someone until you travel with them, and getting to know someone like that can be a lot of fun (or not!).
But I can have just as much fun traveling alone. It’s a completely different experience, but it isn’t any less enjoyable. When I travel alone, what I learn about is myself. I learn about my own strengths, and I learn about my own weaknesses and insecurities.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but it is for me. I’ve never come home from a trip feeling anything less than a better, stronger person.
Traveling isn’t the only time when being alone is a valuable experience. It can be powerful in any aspect of life.
The World as an Introvert
It seems today—at least in the U.S.—that there must be something wrong with you if you’re alone. We praise the extroverts—those that know how to handle themselves in a crowd, the ones with vast network of friends. We think that working in groups and on teams is the only way to find the answer to a problem. That two heads are better than one. That “collaboration” is the only way of the future.
But the truth is that almost half of the world doesn’t agree. I don’t feel that way. Sometimes, the rhetoric gets so loud that I wonder what’s wrong with me when I don’t feel like going to parties, or working on big teams, or being the center of attention.
I see my friends going out and wonder what’s wrong with me when I want to stay in. I see them collaborating on business projects together, and wonder if there’s something wrong with me because I prefer to work alone.
But there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m an introvert. And, according to some statistics, there’s about a 50% chance that you are, too.
If you’re an introvert, welcome to the club. There aren’t any meetings because we prefer to work alone, but you can at least take some solace in knowing you’re not the only one who feels the way you do.
For me, being an introvert doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy going out or having friends or being the center of attention once in a while. It only means that it’s not where I get the most value from my life.
Being “turned on” and in social mode is fun for me, but I can only take it in limited quantities. When I organize a Riskologist Field Assembly, I purposefully leave my calendar empty the next day because I know that I’ll need to rest and recover no matter how good of a time I’ll have.
If I’m going to work on a team, don’t ask me to brainstorm with you—I won’t come up with anything useful. But if you leave me alone to think awhile, you might be surprised at what I can accomplish.
If you want me to come out with you and your friends, invite me somewhere quiet where we can talk. I get value from my relationships by getting to know you much more than just being around you.
And if you’re an extrovert, don’t assume that there’s no value for you in this. In the same way that I can enjoy myself in a big group, you may find that you can also enjoy yourself… all by yourself.
There is great value in being alone. And handling it well is a beautiful thing.
At the very least, it’s a useful life skill. You can’t always control when there will be someone there for you, so being able to happily conduct yourself alone is an important part of being alive.
13 Rules for Being Alone and Being Happy About It
The following are 13 rules I try to live by when it comes to being alone. They add enormous value to my life.
Whether you’re an introvert trying to make your way in an extrovert’s world, or an extrovert learning to become a better person on your own, I hope they add some value to your life as well.
1. Understand that you’re good enough all by yourself.
You’re a valuable person, and you don’t need the approval of anyone else for that to be true. When you’re alone, remind yourself that it’s because you choose to be. It really is a choice.
It’s very easy to find someone to spend time with, but when you have high standards for the people you allow into your life, you’re telling yourself that you’re better off by yourself than with someone who isn’t a great fit for you.
2. Value others’ opinions, but value your own more.
Don’t ask for advice unless you truly need it. Instead, ask yourself for advice. If you knew the answer to the problem that you have, what would it be?
That’s your answer. The more time you spend asking yourself for advice, the less you start to need input from others. When you trust yourself to solve problems, you become a much stronger and more confident person, and you take on challenges that you wouldn’t have felt capable of before.
3. Learn to be an observer.
I’ve always held the belief that if you aren’t able to take interest in something, it says more about you than whatever it is you find uninteresting.
To truly enjoy being alone, learn to look at ordinary situations in new and unfamiliar ways. Go to the park and watch people play with their children or their dogs. Go to the grocery store and watch how people shop for their groceries.
Everywhere you go, make an effort to understand the other people around you. Learning how people operate when they think no one is watching will make you feel more connected to them.
4. Close your eyes in a dark room and appreciate the silence.
The world is a busy place and, unless you take a moment to step away from it once in a while, it’s easy to forget how nice it is to simply sit alone and enjoy your own company.
Take a moment and sit quietly in a dark room. Listen to everything that is not happening around you. You can learn a lot about yourself in the moments when you’re least occupied—the times when there is nothing to distract you from the thoughts and feelings you deny yourself during your busy days.
5. Learn how to talk to yourself.
They say it’s perfectly normal to talk to yourself; you’re only crazy if you talk back.
Every single person has an inner voice that talks to them at all hours of all days, and getting to know that person and how to talk to them is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.
When you fill your time with other people, it’s easier to ignore this voice, but when you’re alone, it’s your only company. This voice rubs off on you. It is you. The way that you talk to yourself when no one else is around will shape who you are in this world more than anything else.
Just like you’d distance yourself from negative friends who bring you down, it’s just as important to distance yourself from a negative inner voice.
When you’re alone, it can sometimes be hard to stay positive, but you must be kind to yourself.
6. Cherish every interaction.
Most people have to experience some type of tragedy before they begin to understand just how brief our time here is. You get but a few short trips around the sun, and then it’s over.
Time alone is important. Time alone is beautiful. But so is time spent with others.
There is no such thing as a boring person. There is no such thing as a boring situation. If you’re ever bored, it’s because you’re not paying attention. This is a problem with you, not with your surroundings.
Take an interest in every person that comes into your life, even if for only a second. Listen closely to what they say. Watch carefully what they do. Try to understand them as a person. You’ll be better for it.
7. Rearrange your furniture.
When you’re alone, it’s easy to fall into a pattern. It’s easy to stagnate and feel as if things rarely change. And when you’re alone, this is true—things rarely do change unless you make a conscious effort to change them.
The problem is that meaningful change is hard, and what’s hard rarely gets started. To keep things moving, you have to keep things fresh. And to keep things fresh, it’s best to look for small wins that can lead to bigger ones.
Rearranging your furniture is meaningless by itself, but it brings new life to a dull routine, which is easy to fall prey to when you’re spending a lot of time alone.
8. Avoid mindless consumption.
When you’re alone, you have an incredible opportunity to think clearly about your life and the direction you want to take it. In a world that’s often filled with noise, you’ve been given quiet. This is a time to reaffirm the path that your life is on.
Are you happy and fulfilled? Should you keep doing what you’re doing? Or, are you feeling unsatisfied? Should you change something?
These are questions you can only answer when you take advantage of this gift of quiet. If, instead, you fill your time with entertainment that you mindlessly consume—TV, movies, randomly surfing the web—it will be difficult to answer these questions. You can never devote enough attention to coming to a clear answer.
9. Create, create, create.
To create is one of the most important things you can do in your life. To create among a sea of people (or even just one person) vying for your attention is one of the most difficult things in life.
When you’re alone, the only one stopping you from creating the art, the work, that you’re capable of is yourself. All excuses are gone. When you’re alone, you can lose yourself in your work. When you lose yourself in your work, you can be sure that you’re creating something truly meaningful.
Your other option is to ignore that call to create and, instead, look for temporary comfort in things and people who will eventually leave you unfulfilled. Make use of your loneliness.
10. Make plans for the future, and pursue them immediately.
It’s almost impossible to feel good about your life if you don’t have some type of direction for it. When you meet someone, it’s usually quite easy to see if they have a handle on their life and are happy, or if they’re wandering without aim, looking for something to pursue.
The purpose for your life doesn’t need to be complex or earth shattering. It doesn’t have to be big or overwhelming. It only needs to be present. Once it’s there, it gets much easier to make plans you can take action on.
Pursue these plans immediately. Don’t put them off. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Perfect never comes, and the longer you wait, the harder it is to get started.
Maybe you want to travel the world and understand different cultures. Maybe you want to build a massive stamp collection. It doesn’t matter what it is—pick something you enjoy and go after it.
When you do this, two things happen. First, you gain a sense of confidence in yourself because you see that you’re capable of living on your own terms. Second, this confidence brings new and interesting people into your life.
Being alone can be beautiful, but if you want to add people to your life, finding a purpose for your existence is the fastest way to do it.
11. Go to a movie alone.
Get used to doing things alone that society says is made for two. Go to a movie by yourself and enjoy the picture. Have a great dinner out all by yourself. Take yourself on dates, and learn to treat yourself well.
This will be awkward at first. If you’re used to going out with others, you’ll wonder what you should do with yourself while you’re alone. Don’t try to hide from the discomfort. Accept it. And then laugh about it because, really, who the hell decided that you weren’t supposed to do these things alone?
Besides, to truly enjoy these things with others, you have to learn to enjoy them alone first.
12. Pursue an impractical project.
When you work on a team, the pressure to conform is great. You always have to think about the others in your group and regularly make compromises so that the end result is acceptable to everyone.
In my opinion, this is a terrible way to do something important and personally meaningful.
When you’re alone, you’re free to pursue any kind of project you want in your life. You have the freedom to be completely selfish and make no compromises about what you do or how you do it.
Take advantage of this freedom! An important part of life is doing things that look unwise or impractical to others. Do something that’s completely over your head. Start something that you don’t know how to finish.
Think of the wildest thing you’ve ever wanted to do, then take one small step towards realizing it.
If you’re afraid, understand that this doesn’t have to be your whole life. You can contain it to just a small part. In the piece of your life that you set aside, never, ever allow anyone else’s advice or opinions to direct how you work.
This is something you do alone, for the benefit of no one but yourself.
13. Volunteer your time.
If you’re a hermit when you’re alone, find others that you can be alone around. A great way to do this—and to contribute something positive to the world—is to volunteer your time to a cause you believe in.
Being alone and happy doesn’t mean sequestering yourself from the world. It means being confident enough to know that you can surround yourself with people, but not depend on them for your own happiness.
And one good way to get started is to surround yourself with good people—the kind you’ll find when you give your time to a cause that’s important to you.
Do you have any rules for thriving alone? Share them in the comments below.