Most of our time is spent engaging with other people. The majority of us have jobs that involve working directly, face-to-face, with others. Even those who work from home are beholden to a rotation of calls, e-mails, and messages. Once work hours have concluded, we turn our attention to families, roommates, and friends. All things considered, it’s rare to find time for yourself. So, how do you feel when you are alone? This is a rarely asked but very important point to reflect on. See, if you’re not happy in your own company then chances are you’re not, really, that happy.
When engaging with friends, family, even clients and co-workers, we are distracted. Usually, when people gather, they’re rallying around something. At work we discuss projects, business, and the like. Families talk about their days, their kids, who gets the car this weekend – the quotidian stuff. Even with friends we usually make dates that revolve around a common “goal,” from cocktails to movie viewings. The point is that when we’re with other people, we’ve usually elected a point of distraction; something to consume our focus and attention. As such, so long as we’re interacting with other people, there’s no time for the ever-buzzing hum of unconscious thought to emerge. Plainly, we can’t think about our problems when we’re busy socializing.
Spending time with others is not a problem in and of itself – plenty of people thrive in social situations, and connection with like-minded people is an essential component of our emotional wellbeing. But if you’re the kind of person who books their days solid with back-to-back activities, it’s important you ask yourself why you prefer being surrounded by people – why you prefer being busy. Are you an extrovert who feels energized in company? Or are you avoiding spending time alone because solitude gives you anxiety? The latter is more common than you think, and it’s vital to your happiness that you identify whether it applies to you.
The thing that many people find uncomfortable about solitude is that it forces us to contend with our innermost thoughts, the things we don’t make time for on a regular basis. And, often, these thoughts are not the cuddliest. When left unoccupied, the mind fills the void with big, haunting questions. Will I ever truly be happy in my career? Am I not in a relationship because I’m difficult to be around? Have I plateaued on a personal level? Why am I not taking the risks that I need to? What if I’m really not good enough? What am I really scared of? It induces anxiety, it makes for a lot of uncomfortable self-reflection, and it transforms being alone into being lonely. A quick and easy fix is to call up a friend and leave those biting thoughts behind. Deal with those later.
This tendency is problematic because procrastination has an addictive quality, and the more we do it the more likely we are to do it again. That leaves us with a lot of unaddressed, emotionally-draining baggage, and whether or not we’re focusing on it, we’ve still got it on our backs. There’s no outrunning our insecurities because they belong to us. Socializing can distract us, but it won’t allow us to magically pass the baggage to someone else. It’s the kind of thing we have to tackle on our own, which brings up another troubling question: how?
The solution is simple, but far from easy: spend time alone and answer the needling troubles of your unconscious. Yes, they’re difficult. Yes, they make you uncomfortable. But those worries are trying to push you towards a better life by enlightening you to the things you feel are missing deep down. If you take the time to label those buried concerns and address them, you’re empowering yourself to take action – and taking action for your self-improvement feels a whole lot better than outrunning your problems.
Take the time. Sit alone with yourself and see what bubbles up. Take note of every piece of baggage as it reveals itself, because naming it automatically gives you the upper hand. Once you can identify a problem in clear, specific terms, you can start to solve it.
That being said (and somewhat contrary to the rest of this article), tackling the baggage doesn’t have to be a solo endeavour. Get the people you love involved – chances are, they’ll be glad to help you. Or, reach out to a professional. Therapists, psychologists, life coaches, and the like exist for a reason and can guide you on your journey. But the first steps are yours alone to take. What are you waiting for?