If there was one piece of advice I would have given to my former self before entering the intense world of being a university student, it would be to spend more time alone. That being said, I’m sure that’s the last thing anyone wants to hear given the world’s current nature and the never-ending emphasis on social distancing, but I promise you it holds value. Hear me out.
As a university student just diving into my early 20s, I feel as if there’s a serious downplay on the whole idea of being alone. I see it in many people, continually referring to being single as a negative thing, turning to guys for reassurance and comfort, consistently talking to people, etc. I understand it, but I feel like this consistent focus on needing someone to talk to, or date undermines the serious positives to being by yourself.
Growing up, I never had a tangible sense of self or self-confidence in the slightest, which led me to downplay my own passions and spent most of my time going out with my friends or continuously talking to boys. I always had an interest in fashion and somewhat more alternative music than most girls my age. Still, since it wasn’t the norm, I never let myself go out of my comfort zone and really suppressed those aspects of myself to fit in with everyone around me. For lack of better words, I was living through society and allowed it to control how I presented myself and my identity. In my senior year, I then got into a relationship that lasted a year, ending in a heartbreak that led me to feel inadequate as a person for months on end. With that being said, it was probably one of the best things that have ever happened to me.
Although filled with a great deal of sadness for quite some time, the period that followed suit forced me to confront my raw feelings and deal with them instead of resorting to a distraction (such as talking to a new guy). It took months for me to get over it- and once it did, we were confronted by COVID and the next few months were spent in quarantine. During this period, however, I spent time by myself so often I gained a stable perception of who I was and my goals, which led me to develop a greater sense of self, and confidence in my character. I started to appreciate my own passions more and really live for myself, and this strong sense of self-led me to become independent.
Let me tell you, this refound sense of self seriously changed my life in a multitude of ways, and it significantly improved my self-confidence because I started living the life I’ve always restrained. That being said, I developed a better sense of self-worth and respect for my own character, which gave me the confidence to speak up for myself and dress the way I wanted.
For a better understanding, independence means being strong and secure in your own person, which entails having the confidence to make your own decisions and choices, with the strength to voice your personal opinions and beliefs. Previously: I’ve been afraid to reject guys, I’ve kept toxic friends in my life, and I’ve also kept toxic ex-boyfriends. I’ve allowed people to call me condescending names straight to my face, and I’ve allowed people to take advantage of me.
I’ve been around people who say derogatory terms I don’t stand for, and I’ve just sat there.
But I cannot punish myself for it regardless of how much I regret it because I wasn’t built or strong enough in my own character and aware of my capabilities and voice to do what I would have done in those situations if they were to occur today.
This strong sense of character and independence is so crucial for women to take advantage of and build on at this age. As women, we have been instilled with preconceptions on how our gender is expected to act that were established long before modern history. People hold expectations and biases, subconscious or not, and we are implicitly taught through numerous and nearly all aspects of society that we are to behave in a certain fashion. We aren’t educated to be autonomous and successful to the same extent as men, and as a result, I’ve witnessed countless women develop the mindset of dependency. For better words, a sense of dependence on other people, whether it be friends or through relationships, either way, there has been some negative connotation attached to being single or by yourself.
This notion is further perpetuated by the dense focus on social media that surrounds us in contemporary society. We are regularly exposed to other people’s lives, and by nature, it results in numerous comparisons of our own lives to what others may be experiencing. Unto itself, it’s no brainer that it breeds unfulfillment and false expectations that we internalize. I mean, really, are the likes on my latest Instagram photo going to matter in the long run?
But let me tell you, when you get in touch with yourself, you can begin to see what you truly want out of your own existence and what you personally feel fulfilled doing. By spending time alone, I’ve had the opportunity to expand my creativity through writing, photography, and fashion. I’ve further devoted my thinking and time towards growing my business network and taking on extra-curricular to assist me in getting closer to my dream job. More importantly, I’ve developed a respect for myself in ways I hadn’t before.
To be clear, being independent does not mean having some vendetta against men or relationships because that’s not the case whatsoever. I’d be a hypocrite to say I don’t need and crave people in my life. You can be just as independent in a relationship as you can be out of one because it’s genuinely about removing dependence and reliance on other people that will permit you to live out your full potential and life for yourself. Independence is knowing I’ll be alright if situations don’t work out between me and someone else. If you stay true to your own values and character and see that you are everything you want to portray, there’s nothing that can interrupt that perception. Because you have a choice: you can believe other people, or believe in yourself. If you know yourself- you’re good.
With that being said, this is not some holy accomplishment. I, too, have days when I regret my behaviour and overthink my outward appearance and what other people think of me. But it’s temporary, and I don’t let it consume me. You can either choose to care or just let go, what’s been done has been done, and the only thing you can do is move forward and take it as a lesson.
I truly encourage you to spend more time by yourself and not perceive it to be some negative thing that society casts it to be. As women, we have so much potential to offer the world, and I recognized my own potential by practicing independence. Even if you don’t know what you want to do with your life, that’s entirely fine. Go out and experience, go explore, and find yourself. Overall, just live for you.
Written by: Maddie Stanton