Alone In The Crowd

A good friend wasn’t being herself recently. Even though most of our chats are through text, I could sense that the way she talks was off. And so I brought it up.

It turns out that a lot of her close friends were moving away from the downtown core. The impromptu hangouts that she (probably) took for granted were no longer possible. On top of that, the person she enjoyed working with was going to move to another country. Suddenly, she felt her whole world collapsing.

It can be quite a shocker. What she pegged her work fulfillment to was probably to working with this person. It probably became part of her identity. It’s the same with her closer friends. Always doing random adventures downtown with her close friend was also a part of her identity.

And what happens if what you peg your identity to suddenly have it all disappear? You feel lost, alone, frustrated.

I say that from experience. A few months ago – actually, it’s probably been 7 months now – I too went through a somewhat identity crisis. My social identity was for the most part deeply tied to my girlfriend. I was, for the most part, okay with not meeting anyone new. Then she broke up with me. One of my identity pillars started crumbling but I had other pillars that I could focus on reinforcing, specifically the career pillar. I decided that I would double down on the exciting work I was doing with the startup. To really focus on getting better in marketing so that I could disrupt the norm and influence change. Unfortunately, the company decided to change their go to market strategy and I was let go. Another pillar was knocked out under my feet. All within 7 days.

My identity was starting to become unstable. I broke down mentally. Granted, it lasted under 12 hours. It sucked, but by 24 hours, I was back up, ready to take on the world.

So how was that possible? Yes, my work identity was gone. My social identity didn’t have much time to fix itself (though I was able to quickly build a stick foundation with the help of some good friends. Was it because I didn’t love my girlfriend anymore? Was it because I had a good feeling the company was going to fire me? No and no. It was because my strongest pillar that was supporting my identity was connected to things that I was in immediate control over. That pillar was (and still is) connected to my own personal growth journey. It is tied to daily meditation, tied to creating, tied to reading. In fact, I would say that the majority of my identity was tied to loving and respecting myself to the point that external events did not break down this respect.

In case you are wondering, there are other pillars such as my family, my vision for my future, and my experience of having my identity crumble in the past, only to have it built back faster and stronger.

Of course, it can also be a little too extreme at times. It makes it a little harder to meet new people. It makes it a little harder to be okay going with the flow. It makes it a little harder to trust other people. All of those feel like a part of my identity is being directed by external forces that I might not be able to control.

I’d like to think I’m a little better at it now. Meeting new people isn’t a hassle (unless I have to commute one hour each way to meet someone for an hour). Going with the flow has become a little easier (mainly because I have a whole working day to work on myself and my projects). And trusting other people to the point that I’m open to saying what’s on my mind has definitely improved.

But a big part of my days are still spent alone.

It’s not even just alone from other people. It’s being alone from most of life. I realized that when I decided to walk to the mall yesterday instead of driving. I felt the chilly breeze, smelt the life it carried, saw the sea of green and the vastness of blue. It was such a powerful moment. But it could also be a very common moment if I just got out of the house more often.

Now, I don’t classify myself as a hermit. If you ask those who know me, they would say I’m typically out there. It’s just that I decided to seriously focus on growing my blog. I have been focused on self publishing a book to use as a way to practice marketing. Once again, I am trying to control my identity of becoming a top notch marketer by creating my own ways to practice and test ideas.

Another reason for being okay with being alone is because I know that this is a temporary thing. My plan is still to work in another country for the year. I want to have something secured this month and so being alone is okay for me.

It’s also not like I’m alone for the whole month. I try to get out of the house once or twice a week to meet people. It’s just that when I do go out, I try to have it lined up so that I’m meeting a few people throughout the day. The conversations are meaningful enough for me to fill my connection need and thus I’m okay again the rest of the week.

If I had to summarize this messy piece, it’s that a lot of us have our identity built around two main pillars.

The first one is being around people. It could be a significant other, where all your free time is spent with that one person. Or it could be with a set of close friends. If that identity is ever threatened or severed, a part of your identity is lost, leaving you feeling alone.

The second one is around a career. A part of it will be around the actual work, but the bigger part there is the connections you make.

Most people don’t really have a strong self identity pillar. But if you are able to redirect a bigger part of your identity to taking care of yourself, then these external events won’t shake you as hard. For me, that’s through creating my own experiences, and having something bigger to work towards.