Once upon a time, I was a recluse. That’s right, a veritable hermit. In the midst of the tough times I ran into after I dropped out of college, I spent a lot of time alone.
Prior to dropping out, I’d never really been what you might call a social butterfly, but I had a fair number of friends that I spent a lot of time with. Once I left school, I quit being around those folks 24/7. It wasn’t that we weren’t friends anymore, but I didn’t live with them and I didn’t see them nearly as often as I once had. I began spending a lot of time alone.
And, I mean, really alone. This was in the 1999-2000 time-frame, and I didn’t have a TV (too poor to afford cable anyway). I had a computer, but this was before the days of streaming anything on the internet (video, audio, or otherwise). I spent a lot of time reading books in the evenings when I didn’t have to work. I journaled a lot at that time, too.
The point is, I became comfortable being by myself. I spent a lot of time alone and tried to sort out who I really was. I didn’t have a lot of interaction with other people to distract me from that task. This blessing allowed me to lay the foundation for becoming the person I developed into.
Fast forward a couple years to 2001-2002. I was in the Army. For a while, during Basic Training and part of my advanced skill training, I lived in the barracks with a bunch of other people. Then, I got married and started living with my wife. I quickly got used to being around other people again. This habit, combined with the tendency for military life to beat all the self-reflection out of you, caused me to quit spending time on my own. I didn’t really like the person I was becoming, but I chalked it up to the fact that Jason and the Army weren’t really a good match.
Jump again, to present day. I’d been out of the Army for quite a while, but still wasn’t happy with the way my life was going. I had struggled with depression while I was enlisted, and had thought that a change of scenery would make things better. But that depression kept bubbling to the surface of who I was even after I got out, and I knew it had to be wearing on the people that I was around most often. If you’ve ever been around a person who is clinically depressed (even one that you care about), I’m sure you know what a trial it can be to deal with their constant negativity.
In March of this year (2009, for those reading this later on), a light went on for me. I realized that I hadn’t really spent any time on my own for years! Not that I don’t enjoy my wife and son (they’re what motivates me to be a better person), but I don’t think anyone can deal well without some time to one’s self. It’s just not healthy.
So, I sat down and had a conversation with my wife. I told her what I was feeling (depressed and upset), why I thought I was feeling this way (because I wasn’t getting any “me time”), and shared with her that I needed some time to myself. Because I had established a precedent through almost seven years of marriage, I didn’t want her to take it the wrong way when I started holing up in our office every night after we put our son to bed.
You honestly can’t imagine the drastic turn-around this has caused in my outlook. In the four or so months since I’ve begun doing this, I’ve gone 180 degrees from where I was.
1. Time alone makes me value time with others more. That seems kind of obvious, but the change has been amazing. Before, when I wasn’t taking time away, I would dread being in social situations. I didn’t enjoy being around other people. Now, I think it’s great. I’m still not the life of the party, but I enjoy being around others.
2. Time alone gives me a space to be creative. My alone time (usually an hour or a little more every evening) is when I do the majority of my writing. I brainstorm ideas, work on content for this site, write guest posts, and answer email. I honestly didn’t think I had the ability to maintain this blog posting twice a week or more when I started. Now that I’ve turned on that spigot of creativity, the ideas just won’t stop coming. It’s an amazing thing. When you free up time to do what it is that’s important to you, you’ll find that opportunities present themselves to keep doing it.
3. Time alone lets you discover who you really are. I read a lot more now, too. I use my alone time to reflect on what happens to me during the day, and identify areas that I need to concentrate on in my own personal development. That’s a lot of the reason why many things I write here are somewhat personal. This blog is about me hashing out my issues and trying to find ways to become a better person in the face of challenges that I run up against.
I think that, regardless of who you are, and no matter how extroverted or introverted you think you are, you need to spend some time by yourself. In fact, if you’re an extrovert, you need to do this even more. If you’re an extrovert, the idea of time alone with yourself might be a teensy bit scary. Doing stuff that scares us makes us better people.
I’m not perfect at this, and I’m not saying that spending an hour by yourself every night is going to make your problems disappear. What I will say is this: we can’t work through our challenges until we identify what they are, and then craft solutions to them. That’s done initially on your own.
What about you? How do you use your time alone? Do you think you could use a little more (or less)? Have you noticed any benefits that come from making sure you take time for yourself? Let us know in the comments…