I don’t think you can truly be happy until you truly know who you are. I also believe that you don’t truly know who are until you spend some quality time alone. You may think you know yourself before doing so, and you’re right on most levels, however you are also wrong. Now this quality time alone can come in any format that suits your personality, but I think it’s best when it’s thrust upon you and you have no choice but to deal with it right then and there. Sure you might feel lousy for a while but ultimately it will be worth it, ultimately you’ll discover a version of yourself you never knew existed. At least that’s what happened to me.
It’s possible to feel lonely in a room filled with people. I guess that’s pretty cliche, but it’s true. I experienced this in each of the 3 countries I visited during my 9 month voyage of self discovery. In America it was the combination of 90% of the staff at my summer camp already knowing each other (I mean, they actually grew up together), and a serious case of awkward new girl on my part. I think when you find yourself in a situation where you are going to be living with people you’ve never met before, it’s important to have a strong sense of self. Before camp I did have a strong sense of self when in the company of people I knew, however when with groups of strangers I tended to slip into the background. Not out of shyness or self consciousness, I guess I just thought it would be easier that way. In reality it’s not easier that way, it’s actually much much harder.
I’ve been in a relationship since I was 15, I grew up as 1 of 5 children, and when I moved to London I lived with a group of friends that I regard as family. My point is I had never been alone until the day I got on that plane. That’s when I began to blossom. I didn’t change per ce, I just became a more well rounded me, like Hope version 2.0. Do you know what I mean? Anyway for the first 2 weeks it was hell, every fibre of my being wanted to run, just get on a plane and leave. But I didn’t. I stuck it out. And I am so glad I did. I learnt a lot on those nights before the kids arrived at camp when I walked back to my 80 year old log cabin in the pitch black and freezing cold. Changing for bed in the piercing silence and getting into my tiny camping bed propped up by milk crates, being so cold I couldn’t sleep because I was physically shaking. Attempting to fall asleep to the sound of the waves lapping at the edge of the Lake that lay just outside my window, totally alone in the middle of the wilderness. The experience was life changing. I now knew that being alone was ok, actually it was pretty great. I went on to make some of the best friends I will ever have, but I also began to relish in my moments alone. In my hours off I would take a book and sunbathe on the docks of the lake, or take a bicycle and see where it took me, and I ended up loving it.
The next stage of my trip was in Australia. Flying to Australia from the UK alone seems like a scary thing to do and people often ask me why I did it alone. Why not? You have to take risks to have fun don’t you? As it goes as soon as you get on the plane you realise just how easy it is. The actual flight that is. When I landed I was to stay with relatives of mine that I had never met before, it was daunting. They turned out to be the most beautiful family I have ever encountered and I learnt so much from them. However that first awkward night when they showed me to my room, I shut the door and had the crushing realisation that I was as far away from the people I love as I possibly could be, I felt lonely. Fortunately by this point I had the experience to deal with these feelings and turn them into something positive. During the days when everyone was at work I went out and explored. I walked for miles, exploring beaches, rivers and towns. I took the bus when I didn’t know where I was going and I had mini solo adventures. It was very freeing.
Again in New Zealand I was staying with more extended family. They are Maori and it was a bit of a culture shock. But wow, what phenomenally loud happy people they were! They accepted me whole heartedly, immersing me into their way of life head first and letting me sleep on the floor of the guest room with my cousins. However it is hard to fit into an already extremely close family, but the trick is to get stuck in! I was quiet at first while I was finding my feet amongst an array of strong personalities. The children were scared of me, they had never met someone from England before and they didn’t know if I spoke the same language as them (English) it was funny. The adults asked me questions like “What’s spotted dick?” but I won them over by baking them my famous apple crumble.
I emerged from my travelling experience stronger than when I went in, and I put it down to being able to be alone. The secret is to enjoy your alone time, fill it with meaning and adventure and you will be rewarded tenfold.
There is no shame in spending time alone, it’s very empowering and spiritual.