I was 24 when I learned how to be alone.
A year earlier, I had my heart broken so badly that I was positive I would never recover. For 14 months, I cried, wailed, drank, worked, and tried to forget a guy who didn’t deserve me but who I still loved anyway. I stuck close to my best girlfriends and made plans to move across the world and start over.
And start over I did.
It was a lovely, early September morning when my plane touched down in Munich. The summer before, I had traveled across Europe nursing my broken heart with gallons of beer and cigarette smoke-filled underground jazz clubs, sporting my backpacking uniform of a black tank top, Tevas, and cargo pants. On one of those summer nights with my head full of beer and lungs full of second-hand cigarettes, I decided to move across the ocean, start fresh, and get my life together.
Over the course of the next two years, I hopped continents and countries, navigated multiple tricky situations, and adventured mostly alone. While I made a base of friends in Munich, I found comfort for the first time in traveling and solitude. The space to think, feel, and process without input was as foreign as the soil I traversed.
What I didn’t know then that I know now is that those first months alone were a gift that has served me for the last 15 years.
Here are some tips for when you don't know how to be alone:
1) Permit Yourself To Be Alone.
In an age where we are isolated but still technologically connected, this is important. It’s okay to be alone. It’s okay to be unoccupied. This is where your creative, personal, and energetic magic happens, and you probably need more magic in your life.
2) Read An Honest-To-Goodness Book With Real Pages.
Sometimes knowing what to do with yourself is legitimately hard. Having something to occupy your hands and brain is helpful — plus it’s going to enrich your life. And don't even come at me with that e-reader or iPhone BS. Real books, real pages. I recommend a classic paperback that fits easily in a pocket.
3) Even If You Don’t Feel Confident, Act Like It.
I’m not usually one for telling people to exude something they don’t feel, but confidence is something else. You probably won’t feel it at first, and that’s okay. Confidence is a thing you earn, not a thing you’re born with. Although it might come easier to others, don’t be afraid to play with acting more confident than you feel. It’s empowering AF, especially when you’re alone.
4) Know Where You’re Going.
One thing I learned when I was traveling the globe alone is that the first 20 minutes in a new place, ANY new place, is stressful. Getting your bearings is a course in mental and logistical gymnastics. So, before you embark on the next leg of your adventure, study the subway maps, research where to hail a taxi, have your next stop planned out, and know the lay of the land. Speaking of plans…
5) Create A Plan And Don’t Be Afraid To Change It.
The great thing about being alone is that you don’t have to ask permission or negotiate with anyone.
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6) Do Things That Make You Uncomfortable.
Being alone is uncomfortable at first. Wait it out and see what the next enticing-but-uncomfortable experience comes to mind. Go after it. Take a trip. Zip lining in the Olympic Peninsula, hopping a ferry from Greece to Santorini, driving all night from Tulsa to Chicago to see the sunrise over Lake Eerie and stunning skyline, whatever. Do it. See what’s out there and feel empowered as you do.
7) Make Yourself A Meal.
Your Pinterest boards aren’t just for fun. They are for creating feelings, experiences, spaces, vibes, and yes, real meals. Try your hand at making something YOU want to make, season it to your taste, and enjoy the sh*t out of it. And if you aren’t ready for making your own food or that doesn’t sound remotely fun to you, try eating out alone.
8) Put Down Your Tech.
Filing the time with technology is a thing I do. Letting the time be without filling it is not a thing I do well. So, I leave my phone at home or in the car when I’m going out by myself. It creates that uncomfortable void that demands to be filled with something other than the alternate reality that is typically available at my fingertips. People-watching, enjoying a glass of wine, or just being with my thoughts and a journal is uncomfortable and empowering and liberating.
9) Go Outside.
When was the last time you walked out of your house alone with the intent to just be okay with the aloneness? Listen to the outside sounds. Enjoy the fresh air. Feel the ground beneath your feet and the way your body feels untethered and breathing deep.
You are every bit as engaging, worthy, and likable on your own. Now, go forth and discover what is true for you.