January 21, 2015 – by Corriene van Eck &samhoud consultancy
“When you are back home, tell your boss that he is a smart man.” Two men and a woman are sitting next to me at the dinner table, with an expectant look on their faces. Small wrinkles display the first signs of old age, yet their eyes are still sparkling. These three quirky oldies are obviously full of life. The fact that they made their way from Canada all the way to Asia proves that even more.
We’re sitting in a restaurant, somewhere in Laos, eating Laab Moo – a traditional minced pork salad – and drinking Beer Lao. They are sharing their beer, I have my own. The oldies invited themselves over to my table while I was having dinner and enjoyed the stunning view in silence. We immediately start having a lively and personal conversation. They share about all their amazing travel adventures and ask me about mine. I tell them that I have been travelling through South East Asia for a couple of months. Alone. Right before I start working as a consultant for &samhoud. The fact that my boss encouraged me to do this makes them extremely enthusiastic. They wished that they would have had the same chance when they were my age, so they tell me. Because they know now how travelling has enriched their lives. I agree. It has enriched my life and prepared me for my new job.
Loneliness versus solitude
I decided to travel by myself. Not because I don’t have any friends, nor because I don’t like people. On the contrary: I am blessed to have grown up in a lovely family and I have always been surrounded by great friends. That’s exactly why I wanted to put myself in a new social position. What remains of me outside of my comfort-zone? What happens when I’m thrown back on myself, without the people I know? Will I feel lonely? And, will I stay the same?
The moments that I felt most lonely were ironically not the moments that I was actually alone, without people. They were the moments that I was among people who seemed to have a strong connection with each other, whereas I felt that I didn’t fit in that social group. Perhaps you recognize that feeling: when someone makes a joke and everyone is roaring with laughter, except you. The people you’re surrounded by have something together: a connection. Due to the lack of that same connection, you feel cut off and estranged from people: you experience loneliness, even when you’re surrounded by lots of people.
Most of the times that I was actually alone, for example right before the three people came to my table, I didn’t experience this feeling of estrangement. This has, I think, to do with the difference between loneliness and solitude. Loneliness is a negative state, you don’t choose it. No one enjoys feeling unnoticed, unwanted or unimportant. Solitude, on the other hand, is a positive feeling. It has to do with being on your own as well, but it is where you are perfectly happy to be by yourself, and relish and enjoy your own company. In solitude you embrace your state of being alone. Solitude is based on who you are. Connection from a state of solitude is not because you need that person to cure your loneliness; it’s simply because of who that other person is. Whereas seeking to connect with other people from a position of loneliness, hoping that your relationship with them will satisfy you, you may be left even lonelier than when it started. Travelling alone helped me to experience a little less loneliness and little bit more solitude. That didn’t and won’t come overnight, but by making my own decisions, going through times on my own, and a lot of patience, I grew and will hopefully grow further.
Back to that dining table I mentioned at the start: that was a moment when I felt alone without being lonely – I was simply enjoying my food, the view and the fact that I was given the opportunity to see and discover such a beautiful part of the world. And from that position I could connect with these older people and have a heart-to-heart with them.
How this embodies our vision
Alright, you may think: ‘Fine, nice story; but what does this have to do with &samhoud?’ Why do you have to tell your boss that he is a smart man for letting you travel? How is this from-loneliness-to-solitude story going to contribute to your work at &samhoud? Well, I think because these experiences helped me live through two important themes in our vision: authenticity and connection. Travelling consolidated the complete acceptance of myself, and to experience the fact that I don’t need the recognition of others in order to feel valuable. And for me this plays an important part in the continuing search for my own authenticity. To connect with myself, and find out more and more who I am.
So in solitude, without the need of recognition from other people, but just by yourself, I think you can become more authentic. And that, consequently, evokes true connection with the people around you. Simply because you don’t want to connect with them in order to cure your loneliness, nor because they have to give you the recognition that you’re valuable, but just because you are you and they are them. That awareness enables you to become a better colleague, a better team worker and to listen to your clients better, and, eventually, to make a brighter future. Sounds easy peasy, but it’s absolutely not that. I believe it’s an ongoing learning process, and I’m definitely not there yet.
Should everyone travel alone?
‘So, do I need to travel the world on my own to find out about these things?’, you ask. No, certainly not. But for me, this journey was a pressure cooker of meaningful learnings about being alone. Not to mention all the inspiring people I met, the incredible stories I heard and the beautiful things I saw. It has been great preparation for something new. But it’s just a start. And now, after writing this article, I’m going for a walk outside for a few minutes, in search of a new moment of solitude. Thankfully these moments are not only available on the other side of the world.