If you had told me three years ago that I’d be pulling in up to several grand a week while working as my own boss, I would never have believed you. I was so wrapped up in my relationship with my girlfriend that even menial odd jobs were too much for me to handle. Before the relationship imploded, I was a twentysomething whose top priority was romance. After it did, I was a twentysomething sleeping on his mom’s old red leather sofa, trying to diagnose his failure to launch and decide what to do about it.
The solution I landed on wound up being the best decision of my young life: I decided to be single (and celibate) for an entire year.
Being Single Forced Me To Think About Purpose
If it sounds drastic, hear me out. My logic went something like this: I noticed that in my four previous long-term fiascos (I suppose you could generously call them “relationships”), I was the only common denominator. It dawned on me that I was so addicted to comfort and cuddles that I’d neglected to nail down some of the other crucial, big-ticket issues that you’re supposed to work on in your twenties. Namely, I was more than a little freaked out about this “purpose” thing.
Having been so preoccupied with either finagling a new relationship or holding one together, I’d never had to think about the “p” word before. But now it consumed me. And I realized I needed to make some headway on deciding what to do with my life, because in the meantime, my quarter-life existential crisis was giving me panic attacks. So after committing to spending a solid year sorting that out–without sex, dating, or long-term relationships to distract me–I set about putting some solid habits in place.
First, I realized that one thing I could do every day without fail was writing, which was something I loved anyway. But to avoid being a broke diarist for the rest of my days, I also asked myself who I could possibly help by writing. For one thing, I figured that because I was so shitty at relationships, maybe I could help people by advising people what not to do? It was at least worth a shot. The only problem was that I sucked: I got rejected by the first 30 publications I pitched.
At that point I could have escaped into another relationship, and forgotten about my purpose. But I was fully committed to the single year thing, and in a more immediate material sense, I knew I needed to make some money. So I opted for self-improvement–and solopreneurship–instead.
Self-Improvement You Can Only Do While You’re Single
I picked up journaling and planning and positive affirmations (thanks, Zig Ziglar) and committed to adopting a few basic exercise and work routines, which I’d never done while I was in a relationship. These daily and weekly habits gave me some structure and discipline–both crucial to hacking it as a solopreneur. Then, after a solid month of working on my personal and career goals, including tons of writing and learning about writing, I finally got a taste of success: my first published article!
Journaling on a regular basis helped me pinpoint what was building me up–sticking to my routines–and what was tearing me down, which included constantly checking social media and email (I later realized my knack for cold-turkey abstention exercises and gave those up for a month, too–here’s how that went). This made it a lot easier to take concrete action steps that improved my life, advanced my career, and grew my self-esteem.
The thing is, I never would have done any of this in a relationship. When you’re focused on trying to micromanage all the ways you interact with another person, you can lose sight of the personal shortcomings that can affect those interpersonal dynamics. But I didn’t have to worry myself into oblivion anymore about my romantic attachments–my ass was happily single.
How I Focused On Myself (Without Getting Too Self-Absorbed)
At first, though, I worried about becoming too obsessed with all my self-improvement goals. But it only took a few months into my year of being single that I realized this wasn’t a huge risk.
When I was constantly seeking relationships, even though I was focusing on another person, it was really all about my own pleasure and contentment. As soon as the relationship stopped being pleasurable after the initial “honeymood period,” I’d begin to check out mentally and emotionally, which of course would break my girlfriend’s heart. It was totally selfish of me.
But when I picked up a purpose that was outside of myself–helping others through my writing–every effort toward my self-improvement served a larger career goal beyond that. I struggled a lot in the year I spent being deliberately single and the year after that; scraping together groceries was a challenge, and I had a lot of anxiety about making rent. But I reminded myself of the deeper, underlying motivation behind the career I was trying to build for myself. That kept me from caving in or succumbing to narcissism.
Within three months, I was earning a string of checks from freelance writing. Six months later, I nailed a regular gig with a major publication that paid several grand a month. A year later, I was fully independent for the first time in my life, and I started the coaching business I own today. Looking back, that seems like a pretty easy progression. But even though this was the happiest year of my life (that’s what happens when you’re doing what you love), it was also filled with periods of stark desolation.
There were times when I silently begged for a former flame to call or text me. But rather than leaning on my exes or landing a Tinder hookup, I leaned into my work instead. And by training myself to act on my purpose and principles–and to find satisfaction on my own terms and through my own efforts–I earned a “successfully single” status that I now help my coaching clients to achieve. (And I get to charge them for it!)
Being permanently single isn’t for everyone, of course, but you’ll never know what it can do for you unless you give it a shot. Fair warning: You’ll only get out of it what you put into it. But in my experience, it proved a crucial training in self-reliance that ultimately got me off my mom’s couch and onto a career track I love.