Close to a month ago from this posting, I graduated from college. I donned a black cap and gown and joined hundreds of fellow graduates marching into a spacious arena on campus to collectively bid farewell to our undergraduate lives.
It was surreal and exciting.
I was a non-traditional student who returned to college after a solid break. I still remember my first day of the fall semester when I returned back in 2016. The lengthy journey that lay ahead felt like an impossible eternity. Everyone kept telling me that it was going to fly by in a hurry. Well, I actually never felt that way.
I was one of those students who went all in. I decided to be as engaged as I possibly could. All of my assignments were turned in on time, and I did not miss a single class regardless if I was sick or exhausted. No, my college days did not rush by me. My meticulousness with my studies often felt like time was slowed down every day. I diligently plowed through so much work that my days often felt long and arduous.
I did all of this and then some, and I did it because I truly wanted to finish what I started. I wanted to do it well and to learn as much as I possibly could.
With some distance from the whole college experience and time to think about its impact, there are two big takeaways which I now hold dear:
THE LEARNING MUST NEVER END.
Being in college gave me a controlled and concentrated environment in which to learn. The learning made me more competent, confident, and capable.
Why should this only happen in college and end when I graduate?
Truthfully, it shouldn’t. Learning is a primary key toward personal growth and self-empowerment, and I want to be as strong and qualified as I can possibly be. By now, I have already purchased two tutorials for some new software that I want to learn, and I am currently one-fifth of the way through the first one.
SEEK OUT MENTORS.
I cultivated good relationships with all of my professors not because I wanted to kiss-up to them but because it was their job to help me attain knowledge and grow as a thoughtful individual. To me, professors were more like mentors who guided me toward a higher level of understanding. One of the best aspects of getting an education is that it grants students immediate and intimate access to people who are experts in their respective fields. This is incredibly valuable.
In time, I hope to meet with more people who have the knowledge, skills, and experience I want to obtain. Since I will not be around such people all of the time like I was in college, I will need to work harder to seek them out, but these connections are worth their weight in gold simply for the wealth of information one can learn from them.
I plan on writing another one of these reflections six months after my graduation date. It may be amusing to see the broader picture of how my college education will have changed me and the kinds of decisions I will want to make.
Until then, I am slowly easing into my post-undergraduate life. I have numerous decisions to make and more adventures to behold.
My college diploma, which I did not actually receive at my graduation ceremony, arrived in the mail today. It symbolizes so much hard work and deep commitment on my part.
The experience of solitude gets a bad rap. Perhaps it is because it bears the same first few letters as the term “solitary confinement”, or maybe most people simply equate it with loneliness. Either way, we impose limitations upon this term by only thinking of it in those ways.
I utilize solitude in my life differently from what those associations imply.
I actively choose solitude to be an integral part of my life. It is not involuntary in any way, such as being the result of irrepressible depression or anxiety. Instead, it is a tool I employ to combat sad feelings.
Solitude can be physical space and slow time for me to be alone with my thoughts and to clear space in my head to focus in on a question or conflict I need to confront.
Solitude is my time to be alone with no one else’s needs to address but my own.
Solitude is a forum in which I can openly express my feelings such as anger, sadness, grief, disappointment, or joy. There are no judgments and dismissals from other people in my solitude.
Solitude creates valuable moments for reflection and contemplation.
Solitude is stillness. The chaos and disarray of modern life fall outside of its calm and peaceful territory.
So, how do I incorporate solitude in my life?
Honestly, there is not much to it. I basically seek out moments in which I can be by myself.
When I am driving my car by myself, I turn off the radio and any music. Only the hum of my car’s engine and my speedy tires create a soundtrack to the quiet stillness inside my car and in my head.
I go on walks by myself. I am lucky to have a driveway that is half of a mile long and surrounded by trees and hills. I also walk as much as I can pretty much anywhere.
I sit on a bench in a park or at a desk in a library and put my headphones on. Usually, my headphones are not attached to any devices. They effectively tell everyone around me that I cannot be interrupted, and they suppress the daily sounds of an outside world.
The bathroom is often a sanctuary for solitude. I am alone and relaxed.
I lie down on my bed or on a sofa when no one is around and let my thoughts wander.
Perhaps you get the picture by now. Every life, person, and situation is unique. Wherever and whenever you carve out time to be by yourself is your prerogative.
There are, however, some simple rules I follow when I experience solitude.
I turn off all cell phones and digital devices. This includes anything that can play music.
I take at least a couple of deep breathes at the beginning. Deep breathing gets me to relax significantly.
I go to quiet places. They are most conducive to solitude. It is not always necessary, but I find that having fewer distractions around enhances the experience.
Within the continuous juggling act of my daily life, I carve out moments of solitude so that I can find clarity and stillness. This gives me the silent space to look around and take a proper inventory of my life and my struggles. Most importantly, it gives me time to be alone with my feelings and to sit with them. They often have much to say, and I need to listen.
Do you have time and space in your life for solitude?
You have an entire universe of your own making to explore with one gentle and surefooted step at a time.
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