The Value of Solitude and The Dreaded Question: “What Do You Do?”

me snow durham nc
“Joyful solitude” Me at Duke Gardens.

I value solitude, and I think a lot of people do. Let me start off by clarifying that I don’t mean loneliness, which is actually a sad thing to feel, but solitude, the feeling of being content while being alone. Solitude is a major component for me to remain at peace; solitude for me is almost as important as breathing. I don’t need to have solitude all the time as I need air to breathe, but I need it every day.

I also really enjoy the opposite of solitude, at times. I very much enjoy hanging out with my best friends, I enjoy going to markets, I enjoy going to museums, I enjoy going out to eat with family, and I even enjoy house parties and “game nights” quite a bit. In fact, I’m kind of a sucker for game nights. However, one key part of me enjoying all these non-solitudarian (made up word) activities is that they are done with people I know, and mostly people I know very well, hence the words “best friends” and “family”.

A lonely tree?
A lonely tree? (Photo taken in India)

“What do you do (for a living)?”

I do not like dealing with strangers or going to parties where I don’t know anyone. I don’t like small talk, I don’t like getting to know people because it often involves small talk (that sounds terrible), ironically though, I enjoy talking about the weather, but I don’t lead a “normal” life, so I am not really comfortable talking about it to strangers who might judge me. I would like to care less about what people might think, but I just rather not be judged.

I really hate the question: “so, what do you do?”, because I don’t have a job, I don’t have kids and I am not in school, instead I dropped out of college to move with my soulmate whom I met in India and I try to live a life surrendered to God. This is too personal to blurt out to a stranger.

I get that people just ask the question to get to know you/me, but every time they ask, all that I can think of saying is “not much.” I could always respond with a joke, “as little as possible”, and then further talk about my interests (film, art, travel, aviation, weather, spirituality, volunteering, food, cats) or interesting experiences I have lived liked swimming with dolphins, riding a donkey at the Greek islands, winning medals in archery, being a ballet dancer for 10 years, and one day selling everything to move to India, oh and I have a blog too, people are into blogs now right?

I’ve got plenty of stories to tell, but somehow NONE of them ever come out when I am meeting people. Instead it usually goes something like: “not much… I used to be a dancer. My husband is a computer programmer so we can pretty much be anywhere as long as he has internet.” Oh I also mention that I do translations  because I actually have made some money that way, but it is not a full-time or even a part-time job, it’s just an every now and then job, which I mention because I feel like when people ask me “what do you do?” they want to know how I make money, and how I am not just a lazy housewife.

Actually, let me ask you: do you ask that question? Why do you ask it? Does it just automatically come out? Or is there something you want to know?

People don’t ask me this in Mexico, I find it a very American question.

The pink path. (Taken in India)
The pink path. (Taken in India)

Since I can remember, I have enjoyed my solitude. One of my major pet peeves as a teenager was when people left the door of my room open, and I was never doing anything wrong, I was never hiding anything, well maybe a couple of times, but most of the time I just wanted the door closed. It made me feel better.

But there’s a catch now.

Solitude doesn’t necessarily mean being completely alone.

My husband and I are soulmates, right?, and we are together pretty much 24/7. “But what about your much needed solitude?” you ask. The thing is, that with him, I can experience my precious solitude. With him, I can find my peace. In his presence I can be in my own thoughts for a long time. We can be alone, together. We can be in the same room and be silent for hours. Of course, there are times when he probably wishes I’d shut up, and likewise. But my much needed solitude is always available to me in his presence, even if I am not completely alone. In fact, he loves solitude too. He is not an introvert like me, he often tells jokes at grocery stores and he is even known as Sir Joshua at our local Walgreens, but like me, also enjoys and needs his solitude to recharge every day. I guess if we wanted to put a label on it, I would classify him as an ambivert.

Solitude in India

Because of this need that we both have, living in India was quite the challenge for us, as in India people are everywhere, noise is everywhere, and people value company. They will drop in at your house without notice several times a day, they will bring food and drinks and cards to play, they will also invite you into their home for chai, even if you had just met them. This is actually a nice experience if you are in the mood for it and if you’ve never experienced it, even I enjoyed these moments many times, but once you are settled there and actually living there, it can be overwhelming.

The gift of Indian chai at a stranger's home.
The gift of Indian chai at a stranger’s home.

So what about you? How important is solitude for you on the scale from “can’t live without it, it’s my air” to “solitude equals loneliness to me” ? And are you an introvert, an extrovert or an ambivert? (Here’s a non-official quiz if you don’t know and would like to know).

This post was in response to this week’s IBQ Writing Challenge, see other’s entries below:

  1. Solitude ~~ Two Challenges in One! | To Breathe is to Write
  2. Loneliness | Lady K’s Lounge
  3. Solitude – A Cat’s Artistic Endeavours
  4. Solitude – The Snallygaster
  5. My Mindful Solitude… – quietcalliope
  6. LET THE GAMES BEGIN – cateritforward
  7. Solitude | Rosie Writes…
  8. Solitude | Notes From the Fog
  9. Introverts Blog Quietly (IBQ) Writing Challenge: Solitude | Cee’s Photography
  10. Solitude | The Day After
  11. introverts-blog-quietly-ibq-writing-challenge-solitude – Just Be V
  12. Search for Solitude | Wired With Words
  13. THE LONER – keaneonlife
  14. Solitude | Artifacts and Fictions
  15. Solitude | Photos by Emilio
  16. IBQ Writing Challenge – Solitude | Jottings and Writings

20 thoughts on “The Value of Solitude and The Dreaded Question: “What Do You Do?”

  1. As an extreme extrovert just wee bit of solitude is good for me. 🙂


  2. I’m an introvert. I love my alone time – thats when all the real thinking happens. I don’t ask the “what do you do” question. I find it produces the answer that is the least interesting of all the things I could possibly want to know about a person.


    1. Thanks for your thoughts! I wish we could replace this common question with a better worded one to actually get to know someone.


  3. Definitely an introvert who needs lots of alone time. But there gets a point where I need to get and be with people. And I do love being with people. I ask what people do quite a lot. I think to get an insight into perhaps what they care about or what knowledge they’ll have, to find some point of connection, maybe. But also to find out if people are doing what they want to do and why they do what they do. I guess, it can sometimes tell you about a person. Sometimes, not so much.


    1. Thanks for your input! I figured that is why many people would as the question, just unfortunately doesn’t seem to apply to my life. Even though I am very much an introvert, I also enjoy being “out in the world”. 🙂


  4. I’ll pick ‘it’s my air’ today. And how true, in the US and UK people always start with what do you do? What are you? Justify your existence and let me decide if you are good enough for my attention. In ‘easier going’ places like Jamaica or Africa it’s ‘how are you? How do you like it here? How are your family?’

    Also having said that I find that most people in social settings ask the ‘what do you do?’ almost rhetorically. Apart from using it to scale your importance, they are not really listening anyway just waiting to jump in and tell you how important and interesting THEY are.


    1. I’m going to have to agree with everything you just said. In Mexico too, like in Jamaica and Africa, those questions are much more common. I think I can say in India as well.


  5. Brilliant post. I’d say ambivert myself, I do have to have solitude everyday at some point and I love it. I enjoy being with my friends each day also, so a definite mixture there. By the way, I also hate that question, and it does seem to be a very American question I agree.


    1. I got a few confirmations about that question being “American”, I’m glad I’m not alone. 🙂


  6. I have never been able to classify myself into an introvert or extrovert category. I was that girl in college who always had a big gang around her and who can make friends easily, but I was also that weird girl who goes shopping alone and has only a handful of best friends. As you said, solitude in India could be difficult but growing up there, I have learnt to get my alone time even when surrounded by a crowd. I liked to go to the beaches, sit there just looking at the waves and feel so refreshed even when there were so many people walking around me. At the same time, I can’t get enough of talking to people too, friends or otherwise. I’m a bit weird!


    1. It looks like you are an ambivert! 😉 Like my husband.


      1. Does that word actually exist? 😉


  7. I have some wonderful friends from India, but sometimes it’s hard to deal with their wanting to come visit. I haven’t been to India. I don’t know how I would do with all the people and the noise.


  8. This is interesting as it relates solitude to different cultures. I like that. I’ll bet your husband is an introvert like I am. I can be open and lively at parties as well but my soul is an introvert.


  9. Love this post! And I can totally relate… I hate being asked this question too because people can be so judgemental. I love being on my own but I don’t think anyone would say I’m an extrovert. When I am with people I enjoy the conversation and time but I equally love to be alone and don’t look to socialise… Although I love talking ha ha I don’t like sharing too much… So I’m a private extrovert… If there ever was one lol!


    1. That’s funny, a “private extrovert”. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!


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