Apr 30, 2016 580

An extrovert's journey; a guide to being alone.

I hated being alone.

On the Myer-Briggs introversion-extroversion scale, I received 100% on extroversion. This wasn’t surprising to me at all. Throughout the day, I interacted constantly with people around me, whether it was a friend, a classmate, or a complete stranger. Everything I did, I tried to invite a friend to join. There was nothing I hated more than the feeling when I came home to an empty house, and sometimes when I lacked human interaction, I would climb onto my housemate’s bed and sit next to her silently just to feel another human’s presence.

Introverts–no, even many extroverts–have a very difficult time comprehending what it is like to be extremely extroverted, especially my need to constantly surround myself with people.

My friend, an introvert, worried that I didn’t enjoy alone time at all because I wasn’t comfortable enough with myself. Although I appreciated her advice, I disagreed. Nothing about myself seemed to bother me enough that I didn’t want to spend time alone; in fact, I thought sometimes I liked myself a little too much. I simply craved companionship and human contact–is that an indication that something is wrong with me? I didn’t think so. It’s an extrovert thing, and I was sure that introverts wouldn’t understand. Despite my self-assurance, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was right that there was something wrong with me.

Last winter break, I traveled with my dad to my grandma’s house in Southern California to give her a birthday home makeover. Because I am passionate about interior design, this project was a an opportunity I had been looking forward to for months. To my surprise, during the three day period I was there, I barely even touched my phone to message my friends or interacted with anyone because I was so absorbed in my work. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had spent three days essentially alone. In fact, I’d even go as far as admitting that I enjoyed it.

I was shocked to recognize that I was capable of spending so much time alone without going completely insane. What changed this time?

My friend was right in that I was uncomfortable spending time by myself because there was something I was unsatisfied with, but that “something” wasn’t myself–I was, and still am, perfectly happy with the way I am. It was what I was doing that I didn’t like entirely.

I woke up, went to class, came home, did homework, ate dinner, and slept. I wasn’t doing things I loved so much–things that made me forget whether or not other people were present. For a long time, I hadn’t experienced flow, a term psychologists use to describe the mental state of complete focus, involvement, and enjoyment. I realized that when I was alone, I wasn’t just hanging out with myself; I was also hanging out with the activity. And for me to be truly happy, I needed to like both myself and what I did.

This realization allowed me to understand and treat myself better, and I stopped doubting that there was something inherently wrong with wanting to be around people constantly. Although I still prefer companionship over solidarity, I believe that slowly but eventually, I will enjoy spending time alone much more, now that I’ve finally learned how to. I look forward to dancing alone in the studio, reading alone at random spots on campus, and most importantly, discovering more things I want to do alone.

By Lilian Chen