By Jennifer Stone
Recently I’ve been thinking more and more about what it means to be alone. I’m not technically alone. I go to work every day with coworkers, I live in a house with five roommates, my mother and I share dinner over Facetime, and my phone is full of love and friendship in the form of texts.
By definition, I am not alone, but I feel alone.
Moving across the country from Boston to Santa Barbara to work as a Hillel director afforded me a dream job, a picturesque place to live and an adventure of a lifetime, but I left behind a life that took 26 years to build. The relationships I have with my new home and with this new community are not deep, they are new and just beginning to flourish – which is exactly where my students are as well.
As a Hillel director my entire job revolves around helping college students find their identity, form bonds with their peers, and discover the world and all it has to offer. In the pursuit of helping my students I forgot how hard it can be, when someone else isn’t facilitating my growth, to grow on my own. I’m constantly telling my students to push themselves outside their comfort zone, to take on new challenges and to be bold.
So if living here means that I am going to be alone a lot, how I harness that state of being alone is going to be critical. It’s about time I start taking my own advice, be bold.
How have I overcome being alone? I don’t have all the answers, but I think I’ve made a few discoveries:
- In order to start making friends, to find a community and to start feeling as if we belong in this new place, we need to be okay with being alone. By accepting the time I spend with only myself. I am able to harness those feelings and fuel the boldness required to start making connections.
- I have discovered part of the art of being alone, is being alone in a way that feels satisfying, fulfilling, and productive. To do so I’ve started to find different ways to be alone. As most college students know sitting in your room watching “Gilmore Girls” (albeit enjoyable) is not the ideal way to spend alone time.
- I frequent beaches a lot, not only to enhance my tan so I look like I belong in my new California community, but because I love the water and feel at peace by the sea. Why not be somewhere alone that makes me feel good?
- Staying active helps me stay positive. I love how I feel after a tough bike ride, I love picking a perfect playlist to listen to, and I love that even though I’m alone – I’m outside exercising, sweating, smiling at other riders on the path – being productive while I’m alone.
I think when we are truly alone we don’t often think to do things by ourselves that make us feel good. Like many of my students who are homesick, I ask myself every day if moving here was the right decision, and sometimes it is hard to answer that question with a yes. During those times I think back to what I am passionate about, what I love and what brought me here.
Along with many of my students, this year was our first spending the high holidays away from home, but they didn’t have to be spent alone. I went to services and connected with a new community. I made sure to bring together “holiday orphans” of my Hillel to spend time together. Then I took a bike ride to the beach – alone but feeling good. All of this gave me a chance to reflect on this past year and the relationships I hope to form in the coming months.
The true art of being alone is taking loneliness and turning it into productivity, fulfillment and satisfaction. It won’t come easy, nothing important or worthwhile ever does.
And as the students around me begin to invest in our Jewish community and in their “chosen family” of friends, they are also teaching me that the secret to being alone is knowing you won’t always be alone.
Jennifer Stone is the director of student life at Santa Barbara Hillel. She spends her days educating the college youth of today, drinking too much coffee, and getting lost among all the Costco deals.