The phrase I have learned to repeat to myself after years of having access to Positivity Instagram, Pinterest, and (typical Karen) “live, laugh, love” iconography placed all over kitschy furniture stores (and admittedly- my own home) is- I am a work in progress. Over the years this becomes increasingly evident to me, and the thought of being an incomplete entity with decades of development ahead of me (if this whole climate change thing doesn’t eviscerate us all first) while to an extent comforting can be a bit much to handle if taken in all at once. Understanding that, quite paradoxically, though you are yourself whole, you are not done developing, growing, that you are, and continue to be a work in progress, is more than slightly confusing.
Additionally, learning to be content with oneself is tricky because of the mixed messages sent by “positivity culture.” Yes, being by yourself is a good thing, and learning to love your inherent and ongoing capacity for growth is good- but also? Here are the top ten ways to deal with (and by deal with I mean fix) your introverted nature! Become an extrovert and stop holing yourself up in your room, because being an introvert is unproductive, and being by yourself is not as good as always being surrounded by people.
Obviously yes, being alone is something that a lot of people struggle to deal with, myself included. I also feel that positivity culture drilling into my brain that being happy alone is okay but that the joy of being with other people is far superior definitely contributes to this. I can’t be a work in progress if I don’t have my own space to grow, develop, and work on myself.
The resource a lot of us turn to is creating safe spaces with the people who care for us, something I admit is always essential to have. What we tend to forget, however, is that making a crutch out of them can be incredibly harmful as well. I don’t dispute the idea that being around people, learning from them, and gaining energy from shared experiences can be incredibly helpful toward personal development. The importance of having a support network and surrounding yourself by comforting individuals cannot be overstated. However, what I find equally important, and far more maligned, is the idea that being by yourself is not a reason to panic but rather an opportunity to learn to love yourself.
One of the most important life lessons I have learned by moving away from my family and distancing myself from romantic relationships is that being comfortable in your own skin and thoughts gives you a greater shot at happiness in every other aspect of your life. Learning to be alone is really important. Accepting yourself as a work in progress only really happens when you have the capacity to enjoy your life knowing you are its only constant companion.
…. and I know that hearing that sounds like the sigh heaved by the woman protagonist of every romantic comedy ever. Sad because she is not married at age 27, she hides behind a bitter angry facade, barking at the people around her that she is happy by herself before a dreamy Matthew McCounaghey type comes and whisks her off her feet.
My two cents’ worth of life experience, however, has shown me that looking to feel complete by finding someone else, by constantly being surrounded by people, by never being alone, by telling yourself that you will be fine only if other people like you or love you – you’re looking at all but a band-aid solution. I don’t like to think of the future of a lot of the relationships I see in these rom-com type films, because the idea of two people going somewhere feeling they are halves of a whole who in some magical way totally complete each other has catastrophic doom written all over it.
Growing up in a latinx household, where family members coexist like muéganos (a popular Mexican candy made up of separate bits of dough stuck together with a sugary syrup), this was never very clear to me. I was always surrounded by noises and people. Everyone knew where I was at all times, and privacy was always quite limited. Moving out from my house after university was a breath of fresh air and freedom I had never quite experienced, but above all else left me with a strange vacancy in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t have my muégano family trailing behind me, a sister whose room I could pop into without knocking on her door. I, to be honest, had no idea what was going on.
The loneliness that lingered at the back of my mind made me want to seek out approval again, find a group of people who were my family right away without giving anything a second thought, and in my desperation I found myself even lonelier than I was initially. It sounds silly, but doing things as basic as running errands or grabbing lunch at Pret by myself felt like daunting tasks. Seeing people around you forming instantaneous bonds while walking down the street while you are not fully comfortable yet being by yourself was rough. My muéganos that gave me love and company at all times were gone and the idea of building a new home by
myself felt terrifying.
The second I started doing things on my own and found enjoyment in taking my time, making my own spaces for a daily routine, and stopped feeling self conscious or scared whenever I had to do things alone, I started building a sense of self love I had never felt before. Independence is liberating, and learning to be with myself and no one else was the most essential cornerstone in becoming happy. I soon found people I loved to be around, but I was not able to do that until I loved to be around myself without any reservations.
There is so much that extroverted types can learn from introverted people, because being comfortable by yourself and spending time alone (doing anything really) is equally as constructive as getting to know and be around others. Knowing yourself and being okay with that is difficult- I just as much as everyone else continue to be a work in progress, and accepting the fact that self love is more nuanced than a sense of happiness with other people in your life has put me one step closer to understanding just that. I am whole, but I am not complete… and that is okay.
art by Desiree Finlayson
-this article can be heard as an episode of our BRIZO Magazine podcasts available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts-