Tending towards solitude

A few things in particular stood out on Derek Sivers’ About page. First, his take on family and friends:

“I don’t hate but don’t love my family. They’re fine. I just never felt that close to them, even as a little kid.

I don’t subscribe to that “blood is thicker than water” metaphor. I feel pretty equally connected to everyone. (We’re all cousins, anyway.) I don’t feel more bound or obligated to my immediate family than I do to strangers. In fact, because of my ambitious exploring nature, I’d rather focus on the unknown, and push further out into the world.

All of my relatives, every single one of them, live basically right next to each other in Portland Oregon. I’m the black sheep.

I make friends easily. They come and go based on life circumstances. Proximity and interests spark friendships, but proximity and interests change. Best friends become old distant friends. New friends become best friends. Some people get married and stop calling. Some people get divorced and re-appear. I still love them all, whether we talk or not.

I’m very attached to my kid, but I don’t expect him to be attached to me. I don’t want him to feel more tied to some people than others. I hope he ventures out into the world, makes new bonds, and feels no obligation to me. He doesn’t owe me anything. His life is his own. He didn’t ask to be born, and has no debts.”

Second, his preference for working a lot, alone:

“The word “workaholic” would apply, except it’s play, not work. It’s completely intrinsic — just following my own interests. I’ve found what I love, and do it as much as possible.

I prefer this as a solo pursuit. Being around other people drains me, and I don’t want to compromise this side of my life. It’s a very personal pursuit. It’s not business — it’s more like art. The rewards are internal.

Nobody gives a novelist shit for writing alone. But an entrepreneur, programmer, or musician is expected to collaborate. I disagree, for me. I prefer the life of a novelist, whether I’m writing code, music, or systems.

12 hours a day works best for me, about 6 days a week. It’s good to break the gravity one day a week, and force myself to do something else. I resist it at first, but appreciate it afterwards.”

Finally, why he prefers to talk on the phone, rather than in-person:

“I might sound like a total recluse by now, but I’m not. Most people who meet me think I’m a total extrovert, because I’m a real conversationalist, and absolutely love talking one-on-one.

But I have a social window of about 2-3 hours. After that I’m drained, and want to be alone again. Because of this, I’m not into hanging out all day or night, just passing time.

Phone calls seem to be more focused. More ideas per hour. A better use of time. You’re undistracted by surroundings, and focus on the quality of the conversation. And when the conversation dwindles, you say goodbye and talk again another day.

Also, I love voices. Some people need to look into someone’s eyes to know them well. Not me. For me, it’s all about the voice.”

These three excerpts all point towards a single thing: deliberate solitude. It seems clear that Derek knows he prefers solitude and has designed his life to match that preference. I’m relating this because, as I read it, I realised I have some similar tendencies. My life has been a gradual progression towards things that I can do alone. I played team sports in my youth. Now, I practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu—an art in which progress is dependent almost entirely upon the individual. Now, I cycle around the country lanes of Devon with no-one except myself for company. Now, I strength train in my garage, in silence. Another example is my chosen craft. I used to coach movement and teach clients about health, fitness, and nutrition. That required constant, in-person interaction. Now, I read, write and edit in my study. I can—and generally prefer to—go for days with minimal human contact. 

If anything, Derek’s “About” page has helped me to realise that it’s okay to do things alone, it’s okay to desire solitude, it’s okay to want to be by myself. So, for that Derek, I thank you.