I always knew I was an extrovert, but one of the most surprising things I learned about myself after coming to Yale was how social I could be. It’s so easy with people constantly around us, and not just in a superficial way. Over the past year, a friend and I have had a six-hour dinner every Saturday, laughing in the Berkeley common room long after people have left. The interactions don’t have to be so long, either. If I need a quick break from work or miss a friend, I can see them quickly — they’re only a five-minute walk away.
The ability to be constantly social has been a wonderful aspect of college, allowing me to build deeper connections and find friends who are practically family. But I’ve also forgotten how to be alone.
This is for a variety of reasons. For one, being physically alone is difficult when there’s a constant stream of people around us, from our suites to classes to courtyards. Besides, it feels like everyone else is socializing, so when we’re not, we’re missing out. And even if we are alone, we’re never really just with ourselves. I often notice that whenever people are eating in the dining hall or walking on the street by themselves, they’re on their phones or laptops. We can’t even be with our thoughts for five minutes.
Last spring, I realized that I had never had a day entirely alone in college. I wanted to see what it would be like to take a day by myself. On the way home for spring break, I got off the train at the Harlem-125th Street stop and gave myself the day to walk to Penn Station. I wouldn’t listen to music, or go on my phone unless I needed directions or communication: I just wanted to think.
I had a lovely day. I walked through the brownstones of Harlem, nearly fell asleep on a rock in Central Park, people-watched as I sat at a cafe, visited my favorite exhibits at the Met and explored Koreatown. And even though I was busy with activities, I realized I had a clear mind. Without outside distractions, I could finally process my thoughts and evaluate life on my own terms.
This direct communication with myself was exhilarating, but slightly terrifying at the same time. I had to confront what I did and did not like about my life. We’re often told to listen carefully to others, but what about listening to ourselves?
The ability to extract ourselves from larger society — for as little as a day — is incredibly important. Even if we think we have a clear sense of who we are and what we want, it’s easy to get swept up in other people’s ideas or expectations. If we try to get to the root of our own beliefs, we may realize that it’s hard to distinguish between our thoughts and others’.
Furthermore, we judge ourselves and our personal accomplishments in relative terms — am I smarter than her? Do I work harder than them? But judging ourselves in comparison to others doesn’t just mean we’ll never be satisfied. When we define growth in comparison to others, it’s easy to feel satisfied even when there’s room to grow. Striving to be the best version of someone else limits our own potential.
That day in New York taught me an important lesson. If I ever feel like my life is slipping out of control, it means I need to be alone. So give yourself a few hours away. Walk to the Divinity School, or bring a journal to a cafe in another part of New Haven. Listen to yourself.
RABHYA MEHROTRA is a sophomore in Morse College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .