“We need solitude, because when we’re alone, we’re free from obligations, we don’t need to put on a show, and we can hear our own thoughts.” ~Tamim Ansary
I walk along a country path feeling peaceful and free. I wander at my own pace, sometimes briskly and other times pausing to take in the view. There are no conversations to take me out of the moment or distract me from free-flowing thoughts. I set my own course and distance, being accountable to no one except myself.
Spending some leisure time alone brings me a sense of freedom, confidence, and time to reflect. Yet it wasn’t always like this for me. The prospect of enjoying activities alone seemed terrifying, selfish, and somewhat wrong. I’d think I ‘should’ be afraid or I ‘should’ involve others in my plans.
It seems surreal looking back, but there was a time when I couldn’t even sit in a cafe by myself. I’d worry people would judge me as a loner or think I was weird. I look at those times now as someone who’s done a lot of things without others. I’ve hiked mountains, explored new footpaths, eaten in restaurants, and traveled to other countries alone.
I’m no longer bound by other people’s schedules or preferences and can pursue the things I enjoy. I still value those close to me and relish time with them. However, I get different needs met from the adventures I have alone versus those I partake in with others. Neither is better than the other; they just fulfill different aspects of my life.
I need a lot of “me time.” I’m what some people would describe as an introvert. I love people, but I also need time alone to recharge. I know not everyone would enjoy solo trips or activities. However, I’m also aware there are those out there, like the past me, who want to do things alone but are held back from doing so.
Do you crave alone time? Feel restricted by others’ preferences and timetables? Feel anxious about pursuing activities by yourself? If so, I wrote this piece with you in mind, as I was once sitting where you are today.
Change Can Be Hard Work
I want to be upfront and admit that making such a big change in my life wasn’t easy. I was frequently outside of my comfort zone. It took determination and persistence to face my doubts and fears.
However, whenever I pushed myself to do something new by myself, I never regretted it. I would experience a sense of achievement and a belief that I could do this. The worst-case scenarios in my head never materialized, and I began to feel more confident. Now, I don’t think twice about relaxing by myself in a cafe or going off on a solo adventure.
What Spurred Me to Change
The real turning point for me was being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of twenty-nine. I wasn’t even aware that people of that age could get it, so I was lucky it was caught early.
Receiving such a diagnosis, as you can imagine, shook my world, and I was thrown into a period of medical tests and treatments. It was a traumatic experience, but it also taught me what’s important to me and what I want from life.
The first change I made was to leave my job in IT. I wanted a career that would feel more purposeful and fulfilling. After taking some time out, I decided to retrain to be a counselor. This was a significant career change that seemed daunting. Yet cancer taught me that I had to follow my heart and not let fear stop me.
During my therapy training, I began to practice mindfulness and got counseling for myself. Cancer gave me a drive to change my life and a tentative courage to do so. Mindfulness taught me to tolerate difficult emotions so they wouldn’t hold me back. Counseling increased my self-awareness and belief in myself.
I became interested in articles, social media posts, and books about people overcoming adversity or going on incredible adventures. They inspired me to work toward being more independent when it came to engaging in my interests or going places.
A Step at a Time
When I was in local cafes with friends, I started to notice people who were sat on their own. They looked relaxed and content, and I admired them for this.
At secondary school, there’d been the unspoken message that sitting alone made you a misfit. It’s an age where there are pressures to conform and not stand out from the crowd. To appear different would have felt shameful and left me open to rejection and ridicule.
It started to sink in that being in a cafe is completely different than being a teenager in a school canteen. People in a cafe on their own weren’t going to judge me. People in groups were probably too engrossed in conversation to even be aware I was there.
So I decided to visit a coffee shop alone. It was a cafe I was familiar with and one where I’d previously noticed others sitting by themselves. I gave myself a good pep talk and managed to make it into the cafe. I felt so self-conscious that I drank my coffee at record speed. To the point, my mouth felt slightly burned.
That visit was a big step and a turning point for me. I’d done it, and other than a sore mouth, nothing bad had happened. No one had laughed at me or stared at me. No one seemed to have noticed or cared that I was there.
This gave me the confidence to try again. It was easier this time. Visiting this cafe became a regular occurrence for me. I no longer felt self-conscious, and I began to enjoy having a leisurely drink there.
At this point, I decided to step it up a notch and branched out to new cafes by myself. Then progressed to restaurants.
The Big One
The most challenging solo adventure was going on holiday to Malta. I’d only ever been on a plane twice in my life. Not only was I having to face the discomfort of flying alone, but also navigating a different country, using public transport, and eating out by myself.
I booked the holiday not even knowing if I would be able to get on the flight. My partner dropped me off at the airport and came as far as security with me. At this point, I was so scared I had a panic attack. I recognized what was happening to me, rode it out, and made it through security. I was determined to get on the plane.
When the call for boarding was made, I had another panic attack, but I knew I was so close to making it now. The next thing I knew I was on the plane, so there was no going back. I was desperately hoping I’d done the right thing.
I cannot describe the elation I felt once I was on the bus to the hotel. I’d done it, and even if I stayed in the resort all week, it still felt like a huge success.
I woke up early the next morning feeling refreshed and more confident. I’d made the flight and I’d managed to get to the hotel, so I could surely manage to go exploring. In my newfound confidence and excitement, I managed to take buses and a return ferry to visit the island of Gozo.
I loved my time in Malta. I walked for miles along the scenic coastal paths and visited various historical sites. I went where I wanted, when I wanted. It was an incredible experience.
This trip made me realize I’d overcome my fear of going places alone. I returned home feeling replenished and invigorated. I had more energy and focus to give to others. Spending time alone no longer seemed selfish but like an act of kindness to myself and others.
I’d also lost the thought that doing things alone was weird or odd. I was just a person pursuing the things they enjoy.
Tips for Making Changes
Whether you want to travel alone, like I did, or do something different that’s personally meaningful to you…
Be clear about what you want to achieve. Journal, speak to others, meditate, or read inspirational stories.
Break down what you want to achieve into small, manageable steps. Don’t try to rush things. It takes time to build confidence. Take it one step at a time. Trying to do too much too soon may feel overwhelming and off-putting.
Enlist the support and encouragement of friends, family, or a therapist.
If you have a setback, be kind to yourself. Change is rarely a linear process. You might want to take a break to reflect on what happened to see if there is anything you can put in place that would help. It’s okay to change your plan. It may mean going back to an earlier step or making the current step smaller.
Recognize your successes and don’t downplay what you achieve. If you’ve done something different that is outside of your comfort zone, that is a huge achievement and something worth celebrating.
Realizing what’s important to me was a defining moment in my life. I’d become stuck living in a way that had felt overwhelming and dissatisfying. Plodding on with things, as there seemed safety in the familiar. But the cost of playing it safe meant I was missing out on having a sense of purpose, adventure and space to breathe.
It took a major life event to spur me into making the changes I needed. I no longer wanted to waste opportunities and miss out on the prospect of a more satisfying life because I felt afraid.
I had to dig deep to face my fears to get to where I am now. It was a slow process of one step at a time. Despite working toward spending time by myself, I didn’t feel alone. I had the backing and support of those close to me. They were a sounding board. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and celebrated with me in my successes.
I’m grateful for the circumstances that prompted me to review my life. I’ve experienced a lot of things that wouldn’t have been possible if I’d had to rely on others. I look forward with excitement as I plan my next adventures.
About Melanie Hudson
Melanie Hudson is an accredited counselor and psychotherapist. She regularly writes blogs on a variety of subjects such as journaling, well-being tips, and grief. She runs a private online and face-to-face therapy practice in Durham, UK. Melanie is committed to helping people make the changes they need to live a calmer and more fulfilling life.