The Virtue of Being Alone

As a pseudo extravert and a verbal processor, being alone can be difficult for me. If I spend too much time in my own head, bad thoughts begin to grow like mold. I slowly begin to listen to those internal doubts and fears if I don’t find some way of shedding light on them. 

Yet as an expat living overseas I’ve spent an increasing amount of time by myself. Whether I’m on the way to work, going to a film, or walking around the city, most of the time I do it by myself. While I still struggle with this alone-time, I’ve discovered some virtues in the solitude. 

The greatest thing about being alone is that I get to do whatever I want, whenever I want. Two years ago I went a short weekend trip to Vienna all by my lonesome. I admit I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I be lonely or afraid? Instead I had the best  vacation of my life. I visited monuments on my time. I spent stupid amounts of time in art museums, book stores, and cafes because I could. Who was going to stop me? That’s exactly the vacation I wanted, and it was nothing short of amazing. 

Fast forward two years to a short weekend in London with my friends. It was a good trip. I had a pseudo-religious experience eating cream tea for the first time in my life. We faked British accents with the other Americans in the group. But I didn’t enjoy my time as much when I was alone in Vienna. I was carted around and shepherded from one sight to another. I chatted with friends the entire time instead of sitting back and observing in silence. It’s not that it was a bad trip. I just knew that I would have enjoyed London much more if I’d explored it alone first. 

While being alone affords you a kind of freedom, it can also be incredibly lonely.  I get to see all these great things and have no one to share it with. Occasionally that still bums me out. Still, I’ve learned that loneliness can create a desire to share my experiences, and this desire is an asset. It makes me stretch beyond my limits to find other people with the same passions as myself. It’s the reason I speak to people on the internet about books and character development. It’s also a good excuse to find a mutual friend on Facebook and ask them out for coffee. 

Being alone isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact, it can help you to know yourself better and drive you outward towards new things.  But even though there are times when we need to be alone, there are times when we need to be around people. If you can learn to spot the differences between the two stages, then you’ll be gold.

So yeah, there are still days when I wish I lived in a place where I could call up friends and crash at their flats for the evening. But I’m learning how to be alone in the best way possible, and so far? It’s not the worst.