I was originally going to title this “The Rewards of Loneliness,” but that felt misleading. It is paramount to understand the distinction between aloneness and loneliness, as the former is simply describing when we’re by ourselves, while the latter is describing when we’re by ourselves and wish we weren’t.
I have become a die-hard fan of aloneness. Always have been. In seventh grade, my English teacher told me, “If you were an animal, you’d be a fox. Because you’re a loner.”
Doesn’t bother me.
Short answer: Aloneness provides me the necessary conditions to accomplish the tasks that I’ve set out to accomplish. These being–right now–reading a lot of books, writing a lot of shit, hating said shit, and revising said shit. These require, at least for me, aloneness.
Longer answer: There are a handful of those internet-trendy motivational quotes about how people who want to be successful need to learn to be alone.
e.g.“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, that is the way great spiritual giants are produced.” – Swami Vivekananda.
That’s actually a somewhat poor example of what I’m trying to explain. Most people don’t know who the fuck that dude is–I had to google him–but people eat that shit up. Go on Instagram and search #motivation or any noun within that thread and you’ll find what I’m talking about. Lots of these quotes about the solo-dolo path to success and fulfillment. And because these quotes are true. Aloneness is the metaphorical hot cup of coffee that fuels an individual on his or her journey to their decided promised land. And the most highly motivated people are the ones who embrace this mildly unfortunate (is it even?) byproduct of ambition.
They accept that they’ll have few friends. They’re prepared to sacrifice a night out in order to pursue whatever it is they’ve deemed worthy of pursuit. It is both selfish and incredibly not. Aloneness becomes such a creeping addiction once we’ve grown accustomed to it, once we’ve ticked off a few items on our life-itineraries and made some headway. Days spent out having a conventionally “good” time with friends become days that end with an alone self lying in bed, just thinking about all the things that could’ve gotten done had aloneness dominated the day. I have a great time when I see my friends, when we go out and do whatever it is we do, but there’s rarely a time where it doesn’t feel like idleness to me–rarely a time when I’m not wishing I was home and alone, working towards being what it is I want to become.
I’m not the extreme recluse type (or maybe I am–at least maybe I’m on the way) who needs to be alone in a dark windowless room, the bottom half of my face illuminated by blue-light emitted from a MacBook’s retina display in order to focus. But I do require a cup of coffee, a place to sit, peace and quiet. Friendships are usurped by tasks. I remember (I know I reference this a lot) when I was working my way through Infinite Jest. That book became the task. That book came alive–I spent my days with it the same way I spend days with my actual human friends. Hours on end. Things to be accomplished keep us company. Spend a day out in town or spend a day at home studying–this example applies to me and maybe you too but isn’t universal–how to write like Tolstoy, what made him such a master of the craft of written word. To the aloneness addict, only one of these options is appealing. It’s passion at the expense of normality. Look at the successful people you idolize. Chances are they’re not normal. Chances are their schedules are not normal. And lucky for them–once they’ve “made it”–they can afford to spend all their time working on what they want to be working on. Which leads me to the next point, that aloneness is required, but isn’t always easy to come by.
I was lucky enough to be entirely alone on an island for a month. It was the best month of my life–at least in recent memory. But even then, and even though I’m only working a part time job (and don’t misinterpret this as a complaint, I very much enjoy this part time job), there will always be things in the way of our preferred aloneness. And this is where it becomes time to really devote yourself. Work 9-5? Going to be out of the house from 8:15-6:00? Okay. Wake up at 5:45. Don’t binge Netflix from 7:00-11:00 every night. Fucking invest the time you have in what you want to achieve. Bring shit to do for your lunch break. It’s a lot like investing, actually. That metaphor works well. Let’s say your 24 hour day is equivalent to $24,00o dollars. Anybody can invest well when they’re able to invest 100% of their “money” into the thing they believe in, the thing they’ll personally work their ass off to make sure is successful. But when you’re spending $8,000 of those dollars per day on something that isn’t maybe directly related to your dream (trite, sorry), and $6,000 of those dollars per day on sleeping–which is fucking important–that leaves you with $10,000. You can’t afford to spend $3,000 of that on Netflix. You can’t afford to spend $4,000 of that out at the bar. You need to stretch that $10,000, because somebody out there–somebody who stretched their $10,000 when it was all they had to spend–they’ve worked to the point that they can invest $18,000, maybe $20,000 per day into their passion. You’re gonna have to dip into the $48,000 worth of time you have on the weekends. That means giving up sleeping in. That means giving up a lazy Sunday on the couch.
But the idea of “giving things up” isn’t necessarily valid because you’re gaining. You’re gaining ground on a finish line, one that you had the initiative to set for yourself. You should enjoy these sacrifices, because it’s what you fucking love to do. But no, it isn’t always enjoyable. And no, people will not understand. They’ll take your decision to be by yourself as personal affront because maybe they’re not cut from the same cloth. Maybe they don’t have something like you do. Maybe they haven’t found it yet. Maybe they never will.
Realize how fucking lucky you are, because you know what you want to be, and you know what it takes to become that thing. And just because you’re working hard at something you love, that doesn’t mean you’re going to love every second of it.
If you want to write (speaking from experience), you’re not going to love everything you should read. You won’t just read passively, you’ll read actively–taking notes, re-reading critically, gawking at genius and knitting your brow. Also, you’ll be so fucking sick of reading some things that you’ll want to die. But you have to read it to learn from it. And even worse, you’re going to hate the shit that you write. But you have to write it, because you get better by sucking and realizing why you suck. Then you rectify the sucking. You’ll face rejection. People will tell you that what you do “isn’t what they’re looking for,” or some version of that. You’ll get that hundreds of times. Anybody who’s anybody will tell you the same story. The reason they’re somebody is because they persevered.
Being alone with yourself and your dream isn’t the same as being lonely. It’s necessary. It’s rewarding. It’s the reason you’re alive.