For the next month, I’ll be studying invasive species management in Fiji on a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant. Follow along with the journey.
Credit: Sean Sheerwood
I find that I am rarely, if ever, alone.
I don’t say this to boast, but rather to state an observation. I’ve noticed this especially since moving to D.C. I live with four other people in a one-floor apartment, and although I adore my roommates, this means the apartment consistently hums with activity. I work in a large company with an abundance of young people, and free time is spent together at lunch, at evening happy hours, and on coffee breaks. I am also fortunate to live in the same city as many of my close college friends, meaning a weekend seldom goes by without suggestions of parties, events, or activities around the city.
I love it. Weeks fly by in a haze of work and friendship, and I count myself incredibly lucky because of it.
But at the moment, my situation is drastically different. I am in a foreign country where I know no one, in a city I’ve never been, living with a family I’ve never met. I’m 16 hours ahead from my friends and family in the States, making communication difficult. My days are shockingly unstructured and for the first time in a long time, my time is entirely my own. I have no responsibilities except for those I impress upon myself as I attempt to pull together a compelling narrative though my research.
And I spend a lot of time alone.
On a practical level, the alone time means I’m able to truly throw myself into my work, which is ultimately the reason why I’m here. But there’s another result, too: being alone means you don’t have friends and concerts and commitments to distract you from your thoughts. The emotions that can get pushed aside in the flurry of day-to-day life no longer have a place to hide. Being alone means taking a deep breath and pulling out the mirror: not the blurry, faded mirror, but the harsh, cutting, honest mirror and taking a closer look at yourself.
This closer look isn’t always pretty — and it shouldn’t be. During my quiet nights and long drives, I’ve tackled doubts about my career path, fears of traveling solo, and frustrations from missed opportunities. But I’ve also marveled at the unusual turns my life has taken since graduation, the serendipitous moments that led me to new opportunities, the inspiring group of people I’m blessed to call my friends, and the pride I feel for all of us making it this far in the “real world.”
Sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes it’s (really) lonely. But in many ways, it’s therapeutic. I feel more in touch with my goals, both personally and professionally, because I’ve have the time to really explore them. Plus, it makes you push outside of your comfort zone and meet new friends everywhere you go; between hostels and dive boats and restaurants, I’ve met enough people to couch surf in a dozen different countries.
Of course, I miss my friends and family terribly and will be thrilled to get back to my bustling life in D.C. But I hope I carry this lesson with me, and never forget the importance of taking time to reflect.