COVID-19 has forced us all into a state of solitude, in one way or another. Why not use this time we’re all stuck by ourselves to start the process of self-discovery?
The global pandemic has put so many important aspects of our lives on pause. If you’re following CDC recommendations, such as:
- Social distancing
- Working from home
- Avoiding large groups
- Staying home as much as possible
… then you’re probably feeling a little lonely right now. Maybe you’re even frustrated, bored, and unfulfilled.
Would you believe me if I told you that I deliberately spent my entire summer between junior and senior year of college in a self-imposed state of “quarantine?”
At the time, most of my peers were living it up at parties and vacations with their friends, savoring their last moments of carefree youth before the responsibilities and stress that comes with “real” adulthood.
Emerging From the Depths of a Hopeless Winter to Find Myself Again
Between my junior and senior of college, I spent a ton of time alone with myself. For the first time in my life, I felt entirely lost as a person; I hit rock-bottom. That past winter, I had lost a sense of my identity. I felt like a shell of myself for over half of the year.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when my relationship ended abruptly. She was the first person I had ever been entirely vulnerable with when we were together. It felt like a band-aid had been ripped off without any warning, tearing away an essential aspect of myself in the process.
I had built such a strong connection, one that was emotionally and intellectually stimulating. I didn’t know how to move forward when it was suddenly gone. That winter, I often woke up with horrific night sweats.
For the rest of the semester, I wandered aimlessly around campus feeling empty and aimless, like some sort of ghost. I felt utterly lost. I barely felt like a real person anymore. The worst part was that I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so aimless and confused.
In retrospect, this was the beginning process of coming into myself. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I needed help – and a lot of it.
This experience wasn’t just about losing a significant other. As part of that process, I suddenly realized I had lost myself,
I didn’t understand what was causing me to take the actions I was taking. Ultimately, this pattern of behavior led me to experience intense burnout. Mentally, I was overwhelmed with so many negative feelings that made me feel “off.” My constant drive to over-achieve was pushing me in the wrong direction.
So, I came home for the summer with a plan. I decided this would be the first summer I wouldn’t spend working in a professional internship.
Instead, I intentionally spent time with myself, sitting with my thoughts and feelings and finding meaning in everything that came up amongst the silence and stillness.
Creating a “personal internship” to work on myself was the decision at hand.
The Strengths and Skills I Gained from a Summer of Solitude
I spent the summer before my final year of college doing things a little differently than all my peers… and I don’t regret it for a second.
As a result, my values, goals, and entire self-perception are backed by personal confidence nearly a decade later. I consistently reap the benefits of making an intentional decision to implement these behavioral changes, guided by intentionality:
- Face myself in the mirror head-on to take an unflinchingly honest self-assessment
- Heal from my past and redirect my future via hard, inner work
- Tune out all the noise I’d relied on as a distraction from personal growth – even if it meant facing what I didn’t want to see
- Open myself up to absorbing sometimes harsh, critical feedback from my closest friends and family
- Identify my core values and most important goals and understand the behavioral actions that encompass them
- Map out a strategic 5- to 10-year plan to accomplish those milestones
This was the first summer I didn’t spend working at a job or internship. Mentioned aforehand, I like to think of it as a “personal internship.” I was not only my own boss, but also the new hire. I spent the summer committed to in-depth training, knowledge, and skill-building.
My Personal Internship Spent Working on — and for – Myself
I conducted intense, deep, and personal work, both in and outside of therapy. The answers I found revealed that the source of my pain lay far deeper than the surface-level experience of a romantic relationship that turned south.
I identified a fundamental disconnect between who I was, how people saw me, and how I had been choosing to live each day of my life.
Here’s what my period of intense reflection and self-discovery during this summer of solitude looked like:
5 Primary Ways I Worked on Self-Discovery That Summer:
1. Working on a farm/power washing driveways and sidewalks in utter solitude
2. Starting therapy to get super clear on my past by analyzing the choices I’d made that had defined me most prominently.
3. Cutting out distractions, both on and offline. I only sent 3-4 text messages a day. Drowning out the external noise finally gave me a chance to confront the issues, obstacles, and unmet needs that caused my troubles.
4. Both with and without this professional guidance, I worked on exercises such as written reflections that were designed to help me understand myself better and figure out my “why.”
5. Getting 100% honest and objective feedback from some of my best friends by asking them to give me reflections on how they saw me as a person.
Notes on Going to Therapy:
I asked my mom if I could work with a psychologist to help start to put things in perspective. Together, we worked through intensive, deep-probing exercises to uncover who I was and my past.
Every activity I participated in was designed to empower me to peel back the layers and walls I’d built up and reconnect with my core. For the first time since I could remember, I felt a glimmer of recognition; I could finally see myself for who I really was.
Notes on Getting Fully Honest Feedback from Friends:
One of the hardest parts of this process gave me the best outcomes. I’m so glad I found the courage to ask my closest friends to critique how I show up in the world. Their honest responses came from a place of care. Each person I engaged centered their response around the exact feedback I needed to hear.
These honest perspectives showed me how the version of myself at the time either matched or fell short of the person I genuinely wanted to be.
It’s hard to listen to people you hold dear tell you their most honest and unfiltered thoughts about who you really are. This was one of the hardest processes I’ve ever gone through in my life. Each session was mentally draining, but I always left with a spark of hope.
Opening yourself up to intense critique is vulnerable, but it’s rewarding.
The feedback I heard the most consistently was the following:
- Smell the roses: I was always in a rush, never enjoying the present. The meaning of achievement was really fuzzy. I didn’t know what meaningful achievement really was. This sense of ambiguity pushed me to figure out and taking on more “why exercises.”
- Your life is going to pass you by: While echoed to me during this feedback period, this was also shared with me by others.
- Your “Smell” is really intense: I came off as being “really intense,” which tended to push other people away. I learned to ask questions, listen more, and connect better and more intuitively with other people.
What I Gained From a Summer in Solitude Spent on Self-Discovery
My summer of self-discovery was transformative. I think back on that time as a “personal internship,” the entirety of which I spent working on myself. No one was giving me a paycheck every two weeks, but I gained something infinitely more valuable.
I got clear on 5 core dimensions of my life:
- Who I was at the time
- My past
- What I value
- What I want to achieve
- The person I want to become in the future
The days felt like they went by so slowly. It felt like I was spending every day immersed in constant mental processing. I was emotionally always working out with myself in a new way I had never experienced before. This was a test of endurance; a training of the brain; an aligning of the heart.
After an extended period of taking time to be alone with myself and have tough conversations, I also began to recognize what had been driving me to push myself to the breaking point.
My intense work ethic and achievements had all been motivated by a desire to prove others wrong. I’d spent so much time trying to “overcompensate” for my past failures in high school.
I just wanted to be accepted, liked, and understood so I could be seen as the guy who was content with the way his life turned out. This desire to be seen stemmed from previous shortcomings and eventually pushed me to rush through life. I felt like I had to achieve at every step. I had never let myself simply be.
The Hope I Found on the Other Side
When I came back to college, my relationships felt different. I wasn’t drawn to the same people I was before. I had a sharpened sense of which people were more surface-level connections.
Similarly, it became much easier to see which people I did want to carve out a long-term place for in my life. Understanding myself was ultimately the key to finding my tribe.
That fall, I started showing up in the world differently. My professional aspirations had changed, and my personal life had changed, too. Going through this self-discovery process taught me who I truly am.
This growth manifested in the 3 core areas of my life:
- My professional vocation
- The goals I want to accomplish for myself
- My personal values and sense of self
2 Key Takeaways from Going Through the Self-Discovery Process – By Yourself
1. Getting Clear on Yourself First Leads to Healthier Relationships
The best relationships in my life have all come as a result of this self-discovery process. As I developed a clearer sense of how to pursue meaningful ideas and goals, the best friends I still hold today started showing up in my life.
Establishing the everyday actions, habits, and behaviors that align with my discoveries and learnings has brought so many incredible people into my community.
Equipped with newfound self-knowledge, I finally understood what types of people I wanted to be around. I gained a new ability to start forming and strengthening healthy relationships. Now, I try to find the people who understood me where I am now, rather than just where I could be.
2. Self-Discovery’s Power to Accelerate Professional Growth
Beyond interpersonal dynamics, it also became so much easier to identify the opportunities that felt fulfilling and right for me. Through the experience of getting real with myself, I found the strength and courage to take the entrepreneurial plunge.
I started Wish Dish to fearlessly pursue something that 100% aligned with who I was as a person. Despite the ups and downs, I’m proud that I created a platform that empowered myself, and countless others, to come into my/their own.
At the surface level, I liked writing. I liked stories, both telling and hearing those of others. I loved connecting with other people. None of those, however, were the real drivers behind that site. It wasn’t just an “authentic writing community.” It was so much more than that.
At the time, I struggled to convey the unique value it offered, but I think I did the best I could I have had at such a young age. Looking back, the reason I launched Wish Dish came from my desire to belong. I wanted to connect with other people who understood me; people who were open to sharing their stories that sounded just like mine. The collective courage of this amazing community helped me find the courage to share my own.
Thanks to the life experience I’ve gained and the passage of time, I’d like to think that in 2020, I am now more strategic and intentional with my pursuits.
When it comes down to it, BW Missions is based on 3 essential ingredients:
- My mission
- All of the discoveries and learnings about how to build a better community and brand I”ve uncovered along the way
Sometimes, I like to think of BW Missions as the evolved version of Wish Dish. Here’s the main distinction: BW Missions is designed for a unique, specific audience. Furthermore, it operates based on a clearly defined business model. Without the investment of time and energy in Wish Dish, and the relationships I built during that time, BW Missions could never have become the company it is today.
The 2 Lessons I Want to Leave You With:
- Start doing the hard inner work to improve yourself early on. When it’s all said and done, what legacy do you want to be carved on your tombstone? Don’t wait until you are mid-career, facing a midlife crisis, and feeling unfulfilled in your relationships and work.
Beginning this process as early as possible will save you from a lot of hardship and heartbreak. You don’t have to hit rock bottom or watch your life fall apart before you establish a strong foundation of self-discovery early on.
- Building a brand is a lot like developing as a person. When we know who we are and what we care about, both as brands and people, navigating the journey of life becomes so much more meaningful and enjoyable.
I hope you make the hard choice to invest the blood, sweat, time, and tears it takes to accomplish this for yourself.
I encourage you to start being more intentional about how you’re spending this time alone. You might even find this endeavor and its rewards can offset the adverse impacts of COVID-19’s strict guidelines and restrictions.
Use the self-discovery process to create a positive experience instead of a negative one during this challenging time. Ultimately, my hope for you is that you find the courage to stand out.