I grew up in a pretty close-knit family. After school, I would go home and spend the remainder of the day with my siblings. At times, we would make each other laugh and be each other’s best friends. At other times, we would drive each other insane. Still, throughout our childhood, we always supported each other.
When I went to university, eight hours away from home, I had my first real taste of being away from my family. It was daunting. I remember a period when a twenty-year old version of myself would call my mother every single day between classes.
While in college, I chose to reside on campus, in the dorms. Dorm life was enjoyable, albeit a little sheltered. I had roommates that I shared my living quarters with. There were five of us, all sharing a suite with our own bedrooms. Five strangers coming together for a year, it was an experience I will never forget.
During my final year of University, I belatedly moved off campus and got an apartment with some friends. It was drastically different from the dorm life, but still felt comfortable because I was living alongside close people. Also, my tenants were accustomed to housing college students in their complex, and they treated us as such.
After university, I decided to make the biggest leap of my life: I would pursue a job on the opposite side of the world, in a country that was sixteen hours in the future! Yes, it would be the biggest jump I have ever made. This was the change I needed.
After being accepted for the position in Japan, I had six months to prepare. I moved back with my parents for a few months to help save up some cash, and before I knew it, the day of departure was upon me. I remember feeling excitement more than anything. A new world. A dazzling country with a foreign culture. And an adventure awaiting.
I landed in Japan on January 11th, 2017, and was captivated with the awe a child has when visiting Disney Land for the first time.
I had no idea what was about to happen to my life.
This was going to be my first experience going solo, with no friends or family to live alongside. And not just alone in respect to housing, but ALONE from everything that once felt comfortable. Particularly, culture, family, friends, and habitual tendencies.
In the beginning, I was so blinded by my excitement and adventurous outlook to realize the significance of what had just happened to my life. Who wouldn’t be? Being thrust into a mystical land, beginning a new corporate job (with an incredibly steep learning curve), getting accustomed to a new city, meeting new coworkers, and attempting to make sense of signs and writings… The list goes on. I was completely and utterly lost in the moment. It was the craziest time of my life…
It wasn’t until 4 to 6 months into the experience that I began noticing what had been happening to my life. Things began to take their toll. Living on my own was downright lonely at times. Adding to that, living away from friends and family instilled a sense of longing that was unparalleled. Meanwhile, the culture was drastically different than anything previously experienced. It was hard. There were times I didn’t know what to do.
But I firmly believed (and still do) that internal growth and development occurs at the most trying of times. I stayed strong. And time went on.
Aside from getting accustomed to the cultural differences, there were some areas of my life that I could only have learned from living all by myself. Skills that came about through necessity. Of those, I’ve chosen five of the most prevailing.
The first of them is financial management. I won’t lie, I was very bad at managing my finances for the better part of my working life (just over 2 years so far). I would spend money without taking into consideration how much everything was costing. I would make sure my bills were paid and then spend too much money on leisure, often spending the equivalent of hundreds of U.S. dollars in a day, multiple days in a row. Eating out at restaurants occurred more often than necessary. And when purchasing household items, I would buy extra without a second thought (why did I need three different types of dish soap?) As my paycheck increased, so did my spending habits. Worst of all, I wasn’t saving any money. There have been several instances where I would look back and think to myself “How did I spend so much money in just a few days?” I realized that money went very quickly when I wasn’t mindful of how much I was spending.
Like all lessons if life, however, we must go through the trials of ignorance until we learn the lessons. Fairly recently, I have come to realize the power of living off of less than my total income. After all, I used to live happily off of a much smaller income a few years ago, so making more now doesn’t mean I have to spend more. These days, I set up monthly budgets, and partition them into weekly amounts. I put away a set amount of money every month for saving, and am able to still have a little bit of “fun” money too. With this new way of thinking about funds, I am still able to enjoy my life, feel good about saving for my future, and have found new and creative ways to economize my experiences!
Another thing I’ve learned from living alone has been self-reliance. Living alone has taught me that the only reliably available person to go to for help is myself. Other people just have too much going on. And rightfully so, they have their own lives they need to attend to. This idea has many branches, but the biggest is without a doubt in relation to happiness. Relying on anyone but yourself for happiness is a bubble waiting to burst. I used to look to others when I was down, when I was lonely, and when I didn’t quite know what to do in life. I used to go to others when I needed a good “cheering-up”. I would get it from people sometimes, and then I would rely on them for it. Reliance on another individual for anything is a path to disappointment, as I soon learned. When others don’t have time, energy, or interest as we need, our hearts tremble inside, and feel pain.
I’ve learned that If I could find my own ways to solve my problems, my own mechanisms for ridding myself of loneliness, and my own fruitful ambitions to keep me excited about the world, then I would never need another person to make me happy. This isn’t to say I’ve given up on seeking the outside world for guidance or support. I am just saying I no longer rely on the outside world for my internal happiness. This mentality has completely changed my life, as I can now be happy all by myself, and get additional happiness from others. My relationships have soared since this realization.
Living alone has also forced me to face small, yet significant life challenges, teaching me new skills along the way. As an example, when one of my favorite suit-jackets lost a button, I didn’t know what to do. I realized that I had not an inkling of knowledge about sewing. I didn’t wear the jacket for a week or two as I thought about taking it to a tailer to get the button sewed back on. That same weekend, I bought a small sewing kit and did the repair job myself, albeit a little muffled. Since then, I have sewed back on numerous buttons, patched small holes in clothes, and have significantly improved my sewing, ironing, and cooking skills to boot. All things I never knew I could ever do.
As another example, and probably most traumatic, I found a bug in my apartment. Not just any bug. Well, let me take a step back. I arrived home after work one night, very tired. All the lights in my place were off. I came into my house, opened my kitchen door, and reached for the light switch with my right hand. As soon as I turned on the light my eyes caught the motion of a cockroach in my sink, darting towards the drain! My body trembled as the blood in my face lost its color.
My sink drain had a food net within it, so I knew the bug was waiting, hiding, within the net. I didn’t want to face the insect, but there was no one else that would be able to, seeing as I lived alone.
These two examples, along with fixing small failures in appliances, cleaning parts of my house I shouldn’t ignore (behind, underneath, and inside machines) and a multitude of other small experiences have only come from living all alone. It’s been a great chance for me to learn things I never expected!
Probably the most significant to my life has been using alone time to find out who I am. Of course, living alone comes with its fair share of desolate times, as I have mentioned already. However, once adjusted, using times of solitude is the biggest step we can take into self discovery, at least for me it has been. When we are alone with ourselves, there is no one we have to prove anything to and there are no societal norms we have to uphold. There is just the beating of our heart and our mind.
At first, I used to despise alone time. I would do anything I could to try to forget I was alone. Watching movies, reading books, and parsing through social media played a significant helping hand towards distracting me from reality.
However, as time went on, I slowly grew accustomed to solitude. Even now, sometimes I look up at a starry night sky and embrace the peaceful silence that I reside in. Through these moments, I have learned to not simply be my thoughts, but to observe them. I became the watcher of the thoughts that stream through my consciousness. After a while, I began to notice the kinds of thoughts that ran through my mind, and just exactly what kind of person I was. I detected how I perceived specific situations and which memories would spring forth most often.
Once I realized the specific thought patterns I employed, I was able to more easily understand why I make certain decisions in the world. As you can see, the implications of this are staggering.
Being the watcher of our thoughts is a life-changing endeavor. I highly recommend reading the book “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, as this book is the door into self-awareness, and it will change your life.
I’ve also made use of alone time by getting lost in my hobbies. There is no better time to improve a craft than when all alone. There is no one to judge and no one to distract you. For example, I play the guitar. Sometimes I just close my eyes and forget about everything else that exists except for the beautiful, melodic vibrations that are passing into my ear canal. Truly a wonderful feeling. And my heightened focus allows for a better transition into muscle-memory.
If alone time is not something you have grown accustomed to, I highly recommend delving into it. For it may change your life.
Finally, and most significantly, living alone has taught me to be accountable for my life. There has never been one thing I have learned in my life that has been more important than this lesson. As I mentioned when talking about self-reliance, there is going to be nobody there to do things for us when we are all by ourselves. The only reliably available person is ourselves.
I’ve learned that every aspect of my life is of my creation: my current health, my financial situation, my relationships, my self development, my achievements, my career, my happiness, my goals, and so on.
The present is a manifestation of all the actions I have taken (or failed to have taken) in my past. In essence, I’ve created my current situation, good or bad.
By this logic I concluded that in regards to my future, it is solely up to me to generate it to fruition. That, or subdue to random forces and reside to never complain about my life again. I am the chef of my life, and it is my responsibly to brew the dish I want, adding the necessary ingredients along the way.
I have now instilled into my mind that I am no victim to the occurrences of life. Being a patsy to life takes away any control I have. When I view life as my own responsibility, I feel a sense of control.
My new mindset is: everything that has ever happened to me, everything that is currently happening to me, and everything that will happen to me is of my doing. I hold myself accountable for my life. Even situations that begin outside of my control still give me a chance to react how I want, thus affecting the situation. I’ve used this mindset to motivate me to pursue goals and work harder than I otherwise would. I like to think of it as a “thinking hack”. Since I have felt responsible for my future, I have been more motivated to put in hours of work towards skills and knowledge I have yet to acquire.
Well, that about sums up my experience of living alone so far. The ups and the downs create a roller coaster of an experience, as I’m sure anyone living alone alone at present can attest to. Living alone in a foreign country exaggerates this magnificently, and creates an environment for rapid self development.
The big take away is: the more pressure we put ourselves through, the more we will have a chance to grow. After all, we are very adaptive creatures.
And for anyone that has yet to live all alone, I can only imagine your life improving afterwards, as I know mine has.