“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Flashback: it’s my sophomore year of high school. I’m standing in the cafeteria, clutching my lunch tray, and wondering where to sit.
The cool kids sit at one table—athletes, cheerleaders, and girls with perfect hair.
The quirky kids sit at another table, reading and doodling in their notebooks.
The noise swells up around me, like a tornado of sound. Kids gossip, flirt, and throw grapes at each other. It’s loud, it’s busy, and it’s a little too much for me.
I wish I could escape from the hubbub and retreat somewhere quiet, somewhere I could eat peacefully and hear my own thoughts.
But in high school, no one ever ate lunch alone. It would instantly brand you as a friendless loner, adrift in a sea of other people who actually fit in. So despite my longing for a quiet haven, I always ended up joining a crowded table.
After high school, I still believed that solitude carried a stigma. I felt uncomfortable admitting that I wanted to stay in and enjoy a quiet Friday evening instead of going to a noisy bar or crowded party with my friends.
My desire to write in my journal, reflect quietly on the day’s events, or go for a long run in the woods always made me feel different than my peers.
I felt like an older soul in a young person’s body. I admired the boundless energy of my more outgoing friends, but I knew that I preferred a quieter lifestyle.
Years later, I’ve come to understand my introverted personality and embrace my need for quiet time. I enjoy social gatherings, parties, and spontaneous adventures, but in smaller doses.
I’ve found that when I force myself to be social all the time, or attend one networking event after another, I feel drained and out-of-balance, like I’ve lost touch with some vital part of myself, and I can’t hear my inner voice over all the noise surrounding me.
But when I accept and honor my need for quiet time, I feel like my best self.
After a weekend spent reading, happily blogging, or hiking with my husband in the tranquility of the mountains, I feel recharged and ready to tackle new challenges. When I’ve allowed myself the simple pleasure of quiet time, I feel at my most powerful and creative.
Over the years, I’ve learned to embrace my need for quiet time as a way to regain my energy, balance, and perspective amidst the hectic pace of everyday life. Here are three ways that I’ve come to recognize the beauty and strength of solitude.
1. Overcome old fears.
I’ve come to realize that enjoying time by myself no longer carries the same stigma that it did in the high school cafeteria. I now see solitude as a potentially empowering and affirming experience rather than the mark of an outcast.
For example, I used to feel uncomfortable about the idea of eating alone in restaurants and worried that I’d get odd looks from other diners. But one year while traveling on business, I decided to get dressed up and eat at a fancy steakhouse by myself (instead of ordering takeout).
At first, I felt awkward sitting alone in a big booth with couples and families all around me. But then, I relaxed and began to enjoy myself. I savored every bite of my luscious salad and steak. I admired the gorgeous décor and people watched. Overall, I had a thoroughly good time.
After that experience, I no longer worried about eating alone in restaurants. By facing an old fear, I was able to overcome it and feel liberated.
I invite you to gather your courage and try something that you really want to do, but that stretches you to leave your comfort zone. You may be surprised to discover that it isn’t as bad as you thought, and you might even enjoy yourself.
2. Let go of guilt.
You may feel guilty when you turn down a dinner invitation or leave a party early to curl up with a good book. Gently release your guilt, and politely dismiss the inner critic who chides you for not being more outgoing.
I’ve come to accept this simple fact: Some people are energized by social interactions and external stimulation (extroverts). Other people are rejuvenated by quiet time spent alone, which helps them feel ready to go back into the world with renewed energy (introverts). I fall into the second category.
Both extroverts and introverts have their own special gifts. Neither personality type is necessarily better or inherently more worthy than the other.
So, if you fall on the introverted side of the spectrum and need time alone to recharge, why feel guilty about it? It is simply a part of who you are, and I believe that being mindful, reflective, and thoughtful are all beautiful personality traits.
3. Change your mindset.
You might think it’s selfish or frivolous to indulge in quiet time, when you have so much on your plate and when you want to devote your time to other people in your life. But if you change your mindset, you will recognize that time to yourself can actually enable you to share your unique gifts with the world.
When you honor your need for quiet time, you are choosing to invest in yourself and your own happiness. Happy people have the best chance of reaching their full potential and lifting up others around them in the process.
Instead of feeling that quiet time is a guilty pleasure, recognize that it is an essential part of nourishing your soul and replenishing your energy levels. Solitude can provide the restorative silence and serenity that you need after a fast-paced, challenging day.
Embracing your need for quiet time is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to yourself and to those around you.
When you have the chance to enjoy peaceful moments to yourself and feel recharged, you are in a better position to be kind to others, care for your loved ones, and make a difference in the world.
Man reading image via Shutterstock