Alone Time

My son had a out of town hockey tournament this weekend which resulted in my family leaving me home alone. In the past 48 hours, I’ve been the only human being in my house. My only duty this weekend was to take care of our dog Jasmine and the two cats, Oreo and Maya. What a wonderful gift I received in this opportunity to be alone and to be just me without interruption.

I know some people that can’t stand being alone. There are people that have to constantly have someone around to be content and happy. This has never been me. I can go for several days without seeing another human being before I actually feel lonely. It has nothing to do with me not liking people. I value my time with family and friends very much. Instead, this has to do with the importance of solitude in my life.

Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Loneliness happens when we no longer want to be alone and we desire to be around people. Solitude, on the other hand, can be defined as a “state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness”.  Solitude is desirable, a state of being alone where you provide yourself wonderful and sufficient company.

The greatest obstacle to finding solitude most often is not trying to find alone time but the guilt of feeling selfish by not sharing our time with others. In my single days, being alone was easy and admittedly at times lonely. Today though, as a husband and father, I’ve been conditioned by necessity to make sure I’m available when my family needs me to be available. Even this weekend I feel somewhat guilty I’m not watching my son at his hockey game and cheering him on as he attempts another shot at the goal. What kind of father doesn’t show up for his son’s hockey game? It doesn’t matter that others will tell me it’s OK to put myself first from time to time, I still feel I’m losing some points toward being a good parent.

It’s important to remind ourselves that while solitude can bring us joy it doesn’t have to be out of selfish reasons. Solitude allows you to also improve yourself so you can be a better person when you are with others. Sherrie Bourg Carter in Psychology Today gives reasons you should spend more time alone. In her article she lists six benefits of seeking solitude:

  1. Solitude allows you to reboot your brain and unwind.
  2. Solitude helps to improve concentration and increase productivity.
  3. Solitude gives you an opportunity to discover yourself and find your own voice.
  4. Solitude provides time for you to think deeply.
  5. Solitude helps you work through problems more effectively.
  6. Solitude can enhance the quality of your relationships with others.

Despite wanting more time for solitude, the reality is that having a family requires you to divide your time between work, your family, and “me time”.  In most cases, work and family come before my own desires. But you know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way as I understand my time with my wife and son are just as precious. But how do you find solitude on the normal days full of work, family, and being your child’s personal Lyft driver to all their activities?

Most of my mornings waking up as a child were seeing my parents already up and reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee in the other hand. They weren’t seeking an hour of less sleep or necessarily enjoying the sunrise but instead enjoying the solitude before their family reminded them they weren’t alone. For me, I’ve found that most often solitude doesn’t come in periods of hours or days like this past weekend but in minutes. I’ve found that by getting up an hour or half-hour earlier than everyone else in the house…I can have at least a small dose of the solitude I seek to get me through the day. It seems to be working.

Skip Resolutions, Find Direction Instead

This year, I’m not making any New Year’s resolutions. Every year I promised myself to lose weight, bicycle more, and be happy. Every year, I fail miserably. What good is a resolution if at the end of the year I’m standing exactly where I started? But let’s say I did achieve all my New Year’s resolutions. How much alone do accomplishing these resolutions bring value to a person’s life?

I think making New Year’s resolutions is a distraction from how best to measure one’s life. Life isn’t about completing a checklist but about finding your way in this world. I am at the age in life where I have started to lose older family and friends at an unsettling rate. After their death, I’ve never witnessed anyone reminisce about whether the departed completed their bucket list or not. Instead, mourners focused not on the person’s checklist but instead the overall direction their loved took as he or she lived his or her life.

I think for a life to be of value, there are four positive directions we can choose. We can face the East to greet the Sun and welcome the new day. We can face West to reflect on our day as we seek closure. We can also look to the North for adventure and starting something new or we can head South to relax under the warm Sun and be content for what we have. None of these points on the compass is a bad direction to choose. The nice thing is that on this map you don’t have to go a single direction your whole life but choose your own course and move in multiple directions along the journey.

But I think the worse things you can do is to stay stationary. Stationary is a nonexistent direction. What value is there in life to not move toward something that will bring good to your life? None I think.

So, on the first day of this new year, I choose East.