The power of being alone

Over the past few weeks, I repeatedly asked myself this question over and over again: Why do I still feel alone? Why do I feel like I never truly fit in? 

A couple of weeks ago, the Class of 2026 was dropped off to attend a week-long orientation program where we were drained for days, and now we need to find the balance between our study, social and sleep. For many of us it’s our first time being away from home and sharing our rooms with new people. We try our best to do well in classes, apply to many clubs, find all new friends and go out for social events. Duke is hard because of its overwhelming slew of changes. It’s important that we manage our time, stay organised, learn how to do things on our own and accept that we might no longer always be the “best ones” in a school like this. 

What’s more? For me, as an international student, my home is, in fact, on the other side of the earth. I originally thought I should be mature enough dealing with changes because of the fact that I’ve been moving around for a good portion of my life: raised in Hong Kong, lived with a Canadian family for exchange, sent to a British boarding school and recently joined Duke. The scary thing to admit though, is that I still find this kind of adjustment so hard. I feel overwhelmed, tired and a bit lost.

But if there’s only one thing I hope to share with my peers in the Class of 2026, it’s that the foundation for us to connect with this new community is to first connect with ourselves. And to be connected to ourselves means that we understand our own worth, believe in our values in different settings and to not try to be somebody that we’re not. We shouldn’t feel left behind when other people have already got some opportunities and we haven’t: starting to work on projects and internships right now wouldn't necessarily benefit everyone the same way. And it’s okay if we haven’t yet figured out what to do in the future—spending time exploring and reading different things never means that we are worse off in any way.

The other piece of being connected to one’s self has to do with being grounded. When we live in this world, especially at a time when the world around us is often chaotic, the most powerful ability is to let that noise settle in our minds, to center ourselves and to be in a place of peace. As freshmen at Duke, that ability doesn’t necessarily need to come from having meals with a large group of people or going to a party every weekend. It could be from spending some nights alone and reading nice books which are not for classes.

When we approach others with that place of groundedness—a place of knowing and believing in our true worth—in mind, we end up having different interactions from what we'd expect. It’s not like being in orientation week where we survey every single person for their name, hometown and dorm. Approaching people with the place of groundedness in mind instead offers vulnerability, and that helps us find our true friends—the ones that are willing to accept our genuine self. 

However, having true friends doesn’t mean that we will get away from being alone. The key is to change our mindset, knowing that loneliness is not something to be upset about, but rather a power which motivates us to connect with ourselves.

There is a famous quote from the One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez: “Life never exists on its own, but accompanied by loneliness. Whether we are born, we grow up, we fall in love or we succeed and fail, until the end, loneliness exists in a corner of life like a shadow.”

Being alone in college is not something we should fear as long as we believe in our own worth and values. Remember that there are always some chances of being alone, so we should find our own happy moments to state our gaps where loneliness wants to. The real power of a person is to enjoy the time of loneliness in life.

Sophie Ju is a Trinity first-year. Her column runs on alternating Mondays. 


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