We live in a society that holds extroversion in high regard. In a world where the speed at which we make social connections is constantly increasing, this obsession we have with being “outgoing” or “friendly” can have incredibly wide-ranging effects.
We are slowly creating an environment that forces people to be in constant interaction with one another. I believe that we are gradually losing sight of the benefits we can reap if we carve out time to be alone.
This is not to suggest that expanding your social circle is an innately bad thing. I firmly believe that our ability to communicate ideas and experiences with one another is a central facet of what makes human beings interesting.
The Internet has greatly expanded our ability to exercise these faculties and has, I would argue, given us the opportunity to more complexly empathize with people outside our immediate geographic or social sphere.
However, I think we tend to get a bit caught up in this phenomenon, which can have adverse effects on our personal well being as well as our relationships with other people.
It is important to recognize that when we constantly privilege extroversion, we also denigrate introversion. There is a lot of very interesting literature about the distinction between extroversion and introversions, and what follows from these distinctions.
I would contend that the essential difference between the two is this: an extrovert finds rejuvenation in social activities, whereas an introvert is rejuvenated by solitary activity. It seems to me that we often wrongly conflate introversion with being anti-social, aloof, or even arrogant.
In doing so, we alienate introverts or try to force them into being people that they are not (an act which, ironically, isn’t all that sociable or friendly in itself).
This problem seems to intensify on college campuses, and Vassar is no exception. With so many different people living in close proximity to each other, it is only natural that those people would get together and socialize.
Political meetings, lectures, concerts, comedy shows and drunken celebrations seem to be around every corner; every missed activity is seen as a wasted opportunity to meet new people or expand one’s horizon. And it is super important to experience these things, especially considering how cool and interesting our student body can be.
I would argue that even if you are not really comfortable with going to a concert with a bunch of people you just met or joining a political movement that is just taking shape, you should take a leap of faith and get involved somehow. That being said, stepping out of your comfort zone can also mean taking time to be alone.
And when I say take some time out for yourself, I don’t just mean for the sake of your own mental or physical health. While it is important to hit the brakes every once in a while and just take some necessary R&R, I don’t believe that solitude is just a tool that serves social engagement.
Being alone can result in experiences that are as enriching and significant as going out with friends.
As an extrovert, I initially found it difficult to find meaning or enjoyment in solitary activity. I simply saw being alone as an intermediary stage between one social gathering and the next.
As you might imagine, the prospect of going off to college enchanted me, as I couldn’t wait to share my experiences with a whole new set of people, and then have those same people do the same to me.
The idea of always having someone to hang out with seemed to be the greatest thing ever. Yet, when I finally got here, I found that some of my most interesting and eye opening experiences occurred when I was by myself.
Most people who know me also know that I am strangely drawn to walking around campus alone late at night. I can’t exactly pinpoint when I started doing this, but it came as the result of the over-stimulation I felt during my first few weeks at school.
I initially saw these excursions as just a way to take a breather after spending hours on work or with my new friends. But I soon found that these walks opened up an entirely new space for me, and gave me a new perspective on the world around me and on myself.
During these walks (which varied greatly in their degrees of sobriety), I was completely free of any pressures that came with being around people. I noticed that I could still engage with myself, but without any of the performative constraints associated with interacting with others.
As I thought about my relationships with others, or my plans for the future, or even just about a really cool show I just saw, I found that I could reach new parts of my mind. I realized that I didn’t actually know as much about myself as I thought I did.
These walks became therapeutic in a way, as I dove into the complexities and the chaos that emerged in my life and that I believe emerges in all of our lives in some way.
I could be honest with myself, mostly because I wasn’t worried about whether my thoughts might rub someone the wrong way or color someone else’s opinion of me.
Even though this time alone was strange and even a little uncomfortable at first, it eventually became a very freeing and empowering experience.
I don’t claim to be an expert about the inner workings of the mind, and I definitely don’t believe that my experience is universal in any way, shape, or form.
I recognize the importance of finding and enjoying new communities at college, and I strongly support the notion that synthesis of different perspectives from different people leads to a more comprehensive and complex understanding of the world.
Nevertheless, I would like to challenge all of you to find a way to be alone with yourselves. You might be surprised by the person you meet.