Recently, one of my classes went on a walk during our final class period, and I noticed something immediately off the bat. The minute the whole class began walking to our destination, people formed into distinct social groups without thinking. It is interesting to me how automatically these kinds of things happen, and how people don’t even realize it, because it’s so subconscious.
I was walking on my own, while staying close to the other groups nearby. I didn’t really have many people I was close to in that class, so I just decided to do my own thing and try to enjoy the walk on my own. But the whole time we were walking, I felt this feeling of guilt inside me that I didn’t really understand. Maybe it was a feeling of failure? I tried to ignore it as best as I could and enjoy the walk.
During the course of the walk, I began to think that maybe the feeling of guilt and failure came from me thinking that there is something wrong with being alone. On some level, I felt like a failure because I didn’t have a close friend in that class. Although I consciously told myself that there was nothing wrong with being alone, something deep inside me just didn’t believe it. And this trip was making me realize that.
The entire mood of this walk had now been tainted with the thought that there was something wrong with me staying by myself. That’s when I realized that the problem isn’t that I’m by myself, but that I’m not entirely okay with myself.
I believe that the media has given young people this model of the ideal teenage experience, which is partly responsible for this problem. This experience portrays the “normal” teenager as a beautiful person who has a huge group of friends, where everybody in the friend group is equal and gets along pretty well. Teenagers are fed this through young adult TV shows and movies (‘Victorious’ is one example of this kind of social group on TV). Rarely do you see a young adult show about a character who is always doing things on their own, or who has to worry about social situations. This is because they always have their friends to back them up, and they do everything together. Everything.
This makes teenagers feel like it’s not okay for them to be by themselves, because being in a group environment is what’s ‘cool’ or ‘right’. They are taught that that is what’s normal, and we come to think that there is something weird or to be pitied about someone who is alone. I was one of the victims of this untrue message, among many others.
While walking back to school with the rest of my class, I realized that there is nothing wrong with someone wanting to do something on their own. Everybody is an individual, and there is no right or wrong way to live your life, no matter what you may be made to believe. If you’re happy being who you are, that’s what really matters! If somebody is made to feel guilty because they don’t conform to an unrealistic societal ideal, the problem is with the society, not the individual. Being okay with one’s self is one of the greatest skills someone can have in life. Friendships break and relationships fall apart all the time, but the one person that will always be there for you is yourself.
So while cooperation and spending time with others are both important, don’t forget to spend time with yourself as well.