I’m walking through a city in the Deep South today, alone but not lonely.
I used to think there was something wrong with me. Throughout my twenties, I followed societal norms, doing all the things you’re supposed to do to be a normal, functioning member of society: going out with co-workers after work, spending every evening and weekend with friends, killing time with vapid small talk. Always engaged. Always on. Never alone.
But this constant interaction wore me out. Often, I wasn’t pleasant to be around. It felt oddly lonely to never be alone.
Then, as my twenties twilighted, I discovered I was more affable whenever I carved out time for myself. (After all, I’m an INTJ.) But don’t worry, this isn’t a platitudinal reminder to “make time for yourself”; rather, it’s a reminder to embrace your individualism—your personality.
Today, I spend copious amounts of time by myself; in fact, I don’t know anyone who spends more time alone than me. At least 80% of my time is spent solo: walking, writing, exercising, reading, ruminating. In the process, I’ve learned to enjoy the sound of silence: to sit quietly and hear what’s going on not just around me, but inside myself.
Yet the greatest benefit of prolonged solitude is that when I do decide to immerse myself in social situations—be it dinner with friends, a date, or on tour—I’m pretty awesome to be around. Not only do I benefit from my alone time, but everyone around me benefits, too: we all get the best version of me. I’m able to burst into social situations with stored energy, which actually makes most people believe I’m an extrovert since I’m able to engage at a high level and employ active listening, humor, and intellectually stimulating conversation.
I don’t, however, recommend more alone time, or more social time, to anyone: life is not one-size-fits-all, so what works for me may not work for you.
Take Ryan, for example: as an ENFP, his personality is nearly the obverse of mine—he spends more time around people than anyone I know. He’s the life of the party: naturally charismatic, funny, and likable. By nature, always on. As an extrovert he actually gets his energy from other people, and time alone exhausts him.
But classifying his approach, or my approach, as right or wrong misses the point. Both can be right—or wrong—depending on your personality, which is, of course, a continuum: even I, and my introverted ways, would hate to be sentenced to perpetual solitary confinement. Just as Ryan, and his charming extroversion, occasionally needs a break from his socialite lifestyle.
Ultimately, whether introvert or extrovert, man or woman, young or old, I recommend learning more about yourself: once you better know yourself, you can grow by easing into your discomfort zone.
If you’d like to take it, I found this free, attenuated online version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test.