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  • Writer's pictureCécile Hemery

The Power of Solitude

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

When I used to work in a corporate environment, I was in an open space. The whole office was in an open space, it was constantly buzzing with people, discussions.

There was no privacy, you had to book rooms or fight for them. There were some “quiet spaces”, which meant, in reality, that there was a sofa somewhere you could sit on or go to the cafeteria. Honestly, it was pretty cool.

But there was never any privacy really. Never any “real” quiet. If you truly wanted to be alone, the bathroom cubicle was your most reliable option.

I’m aware that the post-covid office space is rather different, it seems though that we have replaced the buzzing of people coming and going with back-to-back virtual meetings and slack messages. And of course, the good old email still thrives.

Working remotely doesn’t mean more time alone.

What does that mean? It means that you never get to think. You never get to be on your own “mentally”, there is always “someone” expecting something from you somewhere. There is a lot of buzz around “Mental Load” as it applies to women and motherhood, the mental load in the workplace never leaves you. A coaching client that I work with described the feeling as “carrying a mental weight” of all the things she needed to do and found herself on a “going through the motions” path that she wasn’t sure she even wanted.

We’ve come to a point that if you’re not “doing” anything — as in typing something on your computer or talking to someone (from work) — you’re not contributing anything, or not creating anything.

But when do you get your ideas? Why do we call a “shower moment” when you get a random and yet supremely beneficial idea? We focus so much on productivity that we forget the conditions necessary to that productivity. Isn’t that proof that sitting in front of a computer isn’t where you’re doing your most meaningful contribution?

The need to do something to justify we’re adding value is counterproductive

You do not become wise by attending 8 Zoom meetings in a row (5 of which you’re — discreetly — doing something else in the meantime).

You do not become wise by making yourself busy with meaningless tasks.

You do not become wise by procrastinating that strategic presentation because “inspiration isn’t coming”.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? Where do you get inspiration?

Another coaching client that I’m working with came to me with that very problem: she’s confident, brillant, she’s got ideas, but she just can’t get them on paper, always getting drowned in by those minor tasks and delaying the meaningful work because she “isn’t in the right space for it”.

What nurtures productivity may not nurture creativity

Our modern world values action, achievements, and “getting stuff done”.

Truly creative people are considered aloof because they have weird habits.

They’re not weird. They’re creating the right environment for themselves so they CAN be creative. They may not do this consciously, but they do it anyway. And it works for them.

Not everyone needs the same environment to thrive.

Flexibility isn’t just about location and hours, it’s also about ways of working too. And it does not work the same way for everyone.

As an Introvert myself, I do need a lot of quiet, and a lot of contemplation time.

It allows me to:

  • Process the things that have happened to me and the information I have received,

  • Rest and replenish my “energy batteries”,

  • Create an environment that is nurturing me, my creativity, my connection to myself and my ability to think critically. To me, that means in my home surrounded by all my stuff should I need it, a bottle of water at hand, a purring cat nearby and a free large chunk of time in my calendar.

In traditional religions, we find a lot of figures that go on a wilderness journey and come back from it with wisdom that they then share with the world. That extended period of solitude allowed them to commune with their God and hear their message.

I’m not a religious person, so I’ll take an example that is easier for me to understand,… and that is Superman.

Superman and the Fortress of Solitude

Quiet, introverted, capable and brilliant Clark Kent, born on another planet and getting from the Sun incredible powers. Apart from the obvious, what I find interesting in his story is his journey to the “Fortress of Solitude”. After a crisis of faith in himself, Clark travels to this Antarctic cave full of knowledge made just for him, where he learns about himself, where he comes from, who he is, and what he can do. He doesn’t go for 1 week, he doesn’t commute (though he certainly could — super speed flying and all) and doesn’t check up on his emails to write a quick article (he is a journalist) on the struggle of heating of ice fortresses or crystal storage capacity and quality (though he could have, it would have been fascinating I’m sure).

No, he isolates himself there, for a significant period of time, and he learns, he reflects, he contemplates.

It is only when he is ready that he comes back to the world to become the Superman that we know and love.

To what extent would Superman be Superman if that journey — shall we say within himself? Devoid of distractions? — had it not happened?

How critical to the construction of his self, and of the “concept” of “who he was going to be” and “how he was going to act” was the Fortress of Solitude?

Even superheroes need their alone time to gather their thoughts, learn and figure things out.

We need to value solitude more. We need to remove the stigma around solitude. Allow ourselves to acknowledge that we don’t know everything and need time to figure things out. Just like everything else, we’re looking for balance, and just like everything else, balance is a fragile thing that varies from one individual to another.

What does your own Fortress of Solitude look like? What clarity do you have on who you are, who you want to be and how you’re being it?

It’s time we start valuing more time alone, time of reflection, and make time for it, in our lives, in our workplace, for our children.


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