On Learning How (And Why) To Do Things Alone
College is an environment where you constantly find yourself surrounded by people. You spend time in class working in groups or bouncing ideas around a seminar table; you arrange to have lunch with friends in Peirce; afternoons are spent at sports practices, rehearsals, study groups or club meetings. In the evenings, you return to a common living space and a room that you most likely share with another person.
“College is where you’ll make friends that will last a lifetime!” is the typical platitude students hear from college graduates. And while it’s true that we have the privilege of getting to know wonderful friends, professors and community members at Kenyon — people who will hopefully remain in our lives for a long time — I think we are apt to forget that endless interaction may not only be unnecessary, but also potentially detrimental.
College is a time to (pardon the cliché) find yourself — something done best when alone. Spending time alone not only helps you better understand yourself, but it can also be surprisingly refreshing. For some people, this may seem easy; others may find the prospect of being alone more difficult (I certainly did when I first came to Kenyon, but I’ve grown to crave it). Regardless of whether you’re introverted, extroverted or somewhere in between, here are some of my favorite ways to be by myself at Kenyon.
Eat a meal alone. One of the best things about college is that, perhaps unlike high school, eating alone is normal (no thanks to those movies portraying students who would rather eat lunch in a bathroom stall than sit alone — what’s up with that?). Bring some homework and enjoy feeling productive while you eat. I like the Alumni Dining Room downstairs in Peirce — it’s generally quieter than upstairs, and you probably won’t be the only one at a table alone.
Go for a walk. Take advantage of the beautiful autumn weather, and when you need a study break, go for a stroll around campus — no particular destination necessary. Leave your phone in your pocket (or just don’t bring it). Look at your surroundings. Observe what you notice, now that you’re not distracted. Let your mind wander, and see where it takes you. It might surprise you. My favorite time to do this is around 7:30 p.m., when the dusk starts to turn everything deep blue.
Go to an event by yourself. Even if none of your friends want to go to something that you think sounds interesting, go. The first time you walk in alone will be the most difficult. I was so self-conscious the first time I went to a poetry reading alone, and I had an amazing experience; now, I look forward to it. I know it feels as though people are staring at you when you sit down by yourself, but when was the last time you judged someone for doing this? Probably never. Being alone means you can fully immerse yourself in the presentation. When it’s over, you can just get up and leave; if you’re feeling inspired, you can stay inspired.
Take advantage of alone time. If you and your roommate happen to have similar schedules, you may not have your space to yourself often; when you do, enjoy it. Try something that benefits from silence. Maybe this means something more lively, like reading aloud or practicing yoga. Maybe it means something quieter, like meditating, writing uninterrupted, or (my favorite) just sitting on your bed and thinking. To be completely alone, try turning off your computer and phone — just for a little while. It may sound unnecessary, but I always find disconnecting from the world for a few minutes unexpectedly valuable.
Doing things alone has helped me discover who I am outside the context of other people; I’ve found this to be incredibly beneficial for me as a student, friend and human being. I encourage you to give it a try. You might be surprised how much you enjoy it.