The advent of social media with the current state of the world in pandemic has normalized the constant need for hyper-connectivity.
But the same hyper-connectivity has led humans away from their inner treasures. It amplifies fears and robs us of original thinking and innovation; this distance costs us personal development and leadership.
That’s when we look at others’ success with envious eyes and question how they became what they are? The answer to this question lies in solitude. Sitting with your thoughts, doing the work away from distractions and not aiming to impress humanity. That’s where the originality of views comes from with a sharpened skill of decision making.
Solitude is an abandoned and disregarded practice humans need to relearn and adapt to forbid their inventions from turning into self-created disasters. In short, to save us from ourselves — our distorted perceptions, misjudgments, faulty assumptions and flawed mental patterns that don’t serve us.
But first, the question of importance is what does solitude mean, how spending time by yourself becomes solitude. Okay, that’s two questions. Let’s see what we are dealing with here.
Solitude — a Practice to Tap into Your Potential
Solitude is a personal space where you come as you are, not trying to conform to others opinions, leaving behind the burdens of responsibilities and the drive to be something for someone. It’s where you nourish your originality; you detach from your image in society and can look at yourself, the good and bad stuff you did, or that happened to you without judgement.
Also, it is a place for you to look at others, the outer world and take from it what benefits you and focus on things that matter to you.
In solitude, you discover yourself and nourish your relationship with yourself, feed your soul the food just like you feed your mind with thoughts and body with stuff all day. It allows you to learn how to think and what to think, get clear on your values, what motivates you and what you are willing to stand up for once the time comes.
Solitude does not mean a complete withdrawal from worldly connections but a practice for having a healthy balance between your relationship with yourself and the world.
Solitude is spending time with yourself doing the kind of practices or activities that root into other areas of life. You can choose to do whatever you find fits your life goals or personal development. At the core of solitude, whatever you do lies introspection, concentration, and friendship — everything that builds you up.
People usually lose sight of their true desires or wants under the burdens of their responsibilities. Life is not perfect for anyone. You have to go through doubts, questions, difficulties and even detours. But the question is, are you willing to face them right on and keep holding on to yourself?
Listening to yourself - is a skill that you can rely upon in crises when life demands meaning. When you know what you want, care about, and believe in so you can count on yourself to make out of any rain and thunderstorm that might be headed your way.
During your time with others or when you expose yourself to social media, you feed yourself other people’s thoughts. It’s other people’s reality and not yours. That’s how it gets challenging to listen to yourself, your voice about yourself or everything else.
If you are giving yourself excuses of not having enough time to spend with yourself, you are postponing pain and suffering.
Observing the Outside - Finding yourself isn’t just about looking inside but also observing the outside. It’s also doing the unexcited daily work. Even mundane activities can become a chance to find yourself with introspection.
‘Finding yourself’ is perceived as unpractical or woo stuff.
Everyday work - If you argue this kind of stuff is for people whose lives don’t revolve around the realities of feeding a family, taking care of a grumpy grandparent, or not being able to afford a decent microwave to eat instant hot food.
Then read yourself the words of a chip’s captain Marlow, with 19 years of being a merchant marine, 8 years serving as ship’s captain, before becoming a writer,
“Marlow believes in the need to find yourself just as much as anyone does, and the way to do it, he says, is work, solitary work. Concentration. Climbing on that steamboat and spending a few uninterrupted hours hammering it into shape. Or building a house, or cooking a meal, or even writing a college paper, if you really put yourself into it.”
You don’t have to be doing crazy creative work called innovation to show the world you have found yourself. Everyday work that you and I have to do to survive is also meant to be valued and looked upon as a process of decluttering thoughts.
Social media has provided an outlet to ignore ourselves by dispersing our attention into fragments that we spend on different social media apps/ platforms. These serve as an escape from one’s self.
Concentration takes effort.
William Deresiewicz’s explained what concentration means in his speech on solitude and leadership as follows,
‘Gathering yourself together into a single point rather than letting yourself be dispersed everywhere into a cloud of electronic and social input.’
Original Work - To produce any quality and original work takes concentrated effort. Your first thoughts are always triggered or inspired by someone else’s work, action, or words, stuff you already know. It’s only when you stick to that thought, dig deeper, let it simmer inside your mind with all the already stored experiences and information that you find valuable insights and originality.
In William Deresiewicz’s words,
“I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.”
Great German novelist Thomas Mann said that “a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” William Deresiewicz states, “that the best writers write much more slowly than everyone else, and the better they are, the slower they write.”
Your best writing or any form of work births when patience and concentration meet.
Yes, friendship sounds the opposite of what solitude means, but we are talking about a deep company with intimate conversations. Instead of talking to 3–4 friends on Twitter, Instagram or WhatsApp all at the same time, it’s about uninterrupted communication with one person.
Emerson said that ‘the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude.’
On the contrary, today, we are busy talking to friends with one-liners, have hundreds of friends yet no valued connections. This is a complete distraction because friendship takes as much patience, effort and time as solitude to be fruitful.
This idea is beautifully articulated in William Deresiewicz’s words:
“Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person. One other person you can trust, one other person to whom you can unfold your soul. One other person you feel safe enough with to allow you to acknowledge things — to acknowledge things to yourself — that you otherwise can’t. Doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you aren’t supposed to ask. Feelings or opinions that would get you laughed at by the group or reprimanded by the authorities. This is what we call thinking out loud, discovering what you believe in the course of articulating it.”
Even if we can disconnect from all social and other distractions, taking time for ourselves can still be challenging amongst all the responsibilities, jobs, and duties.
But you must take the time to invest in yourself, know what you want, who you are, and what you believe in. So when the time comes, you will be ready to face the realities of life and better deal with life dilemmas.
In life, there would come many moments when you have to make decisions not just for yourself but also for others. And knowing yourself is what will help you in those moments when you only have yourself.
You hold all the answers within. It’s up to you to turn your solitude into a self-investment with exponential results and high yields. Is it learning a new skill, reading a book, researching a topic of your interest or something you like to do for fun, like painting, the choice is yours to make?
Solitude is already a part of everyone’s life in one form or another, but only a few invest in introspection, concentration and valued connections. They sharpen their ability to think, get clarity over values, build moral courage and leadership. And guess what all of this is precisely what you need to get going on your journey to realizing success and fulfilment.
Solitude sets you up for productivity, creativity, and expertise in your field. We all are familiar with the rewards of these habits married to persistence. It’s time to invest in yourself now to reap the rewards in the times to come.
If you are tired of living running after others’ validation and are setting out to redefine your life, Self-renewal is the newsletter just for you. Every week I send simple and authentic knowledge to implement in your life so that you take 100% responsibility for your life.