By Francesca Tysse – Collegiate Staff

I have never enjoyed following the crowd in order to feel appreciated and accepted. Through middle school and high school, I felt the need to surround myself with people in order to appear like I fit in with the rest. All it made me feel was even more out of place and uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, I missed so many opportunities to experience amazing moments, so I have challenged myself to do one thing a week to push myself outside of my comfort zone: doing things on my own. I enjoy pushing myself on a weekly basis and many of those moments mean going out in public alone which I have adapted as a lifestyle. The thought of going to a public event, concert, game and restaurant is a mind game because of societal norms. I battle with what I see and what I perceive to be acceptable by daily situations I encounter at school, work and other places, which is to be by someone’s side or a group in order to feel comfortable in a social setting.

Growing up with different tastes than the average teenager made it difficult to find someone to tag along with to events like concerts, festivals, plays, movies, shopping adventures, grabbing a bite to eat and many others. After countless times giving up on events I desired to attend because I could never find a partner to soak in the experience with, I finally grew sick of feeling like I was missing out. In order for me to do what I wanted, I started going out by myself.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

In order to find the courage to go to an event alone, it took a lot of empowering words to motivate myself of how great a time I will have if I go and how I didn’t want to feel like I was missing out again. I thought about the glares of disapproval being stared my way and the people’s thoughts of how uncool, unfriendly or boring I was because I was going out by myself. I finally overcame the thoughts holding me back for so long. I dressed myself with physical confidence to empower myself mentally, also because when I look good, I feel great. I was off to my first event alone, a college visit at Eastern Michigan University.

Most teenagers had parents tag along because they’d experienced college before. My parents have a total of five children which makes it difficult to attend all the lectures, games and events one of us is participating in. I briskly walked with my head mostly down to not make any eye contact with the people heading towards the same building of the meeting. After I entered I raised my head to notice countless teenagers with their parents. This made me nervous because I had to pay extra attention to all the information.

I felt everyone noticed I was alone. I checked in and was escorted to the ballroom. I looked around for a corner seat to not draw attention to myself. As I was scanning the room, a tall and stunning girl approached me which took me by surprise.

“Hey! Are you a freshmen, too?”

I responded, “Yes, I am.”

“Are you by yourself?” she asked.

“Yes, I’ve been looking for a seat,” I confided.

“I am, too,” she said. “Want to sit together?”

Obviously, I said yes. It was comforting to know there was someone just like me, who felt alone and needed a sidekick for the day. Being alone at an event made it easier for her to approach me and engage in conversation.

After that long day, I made a new friend who I connected with right away. Sometimes all it takes is to approach someone because they may be lost, uncomfortable, afraid. Simply engaging in conversation will make the other person feel comfortable and one never knows what could come from that. This boosted my self esteem and confidence to attend other events.

Another time was when I went to finish up the rest of my homework late at night at a local coffee shop during my freshmen year at Grand Rapids Community College. I enjoy grabbing coffee any time of the day, but it made me nervous to sit by myself. I didn’t feel like staying in to finish my homework and I was in desperate need of caffeine so I grabbed my stuff and rode my bike downtown. I was used to going places like this with a friend or two, so I was nervous to sit at my own table.

I decided to work on my homework at The Bitter End because I heard around campus students receive a 10 percent off discount there. This simple discount motivated me to pursue this adventure. I entered the coffee house and made my way to the counter to order. I ordered my simple black coffee and for some odd reason the iPad the server was attempting to ring my order up on, wasn’t working. The awkward moment was causing us both stress, but ended up turning into a bonding experience.

I told her it was my first time adventuring into the place alone and she revealed to me that this was her first time working with no help. We both felt the nerves and anxiety of doing things on our own. In the end she said it was no big deal and gave me the coffee for free.

The event everyone attends with at least one other person or a group of people is a concert. I enjoy many different artists and bands and always missed countless concerts in the Grand Rapids area due to my anxiety of attending alone. I thought it wouldn’t be fun, everyone would stare at me and I would feel even worse about not having anyone with me.

Once I heard the band Anberlin was returning to town I was overjoyed and a little distressed because I couldn’t think of anyone to go with me. The couple of weeks leading up to the concert caused me to overthink what to do and who to ask to join me. After asking a few of my friends, I gave up. I didn’t want to force someone to come to a concert and spend their money on a band they didn’t care for or didn’t even know. I eventually came to the conclusion that I would attend by myself.

Anberlin was amazing every other time I had seen them live and I wasn’t going to miss one of their final shows for the world. Especially when the concert was being performed four miles away from my house. I bought my ticket a week before the concert and, with excitement, carefully picked out my outfit the night before. After having all the things I needed in order to attend, I felt overwhelmed when I arrived and noticed the line wrapping around the corner.

I parked my car and briskly walked to the end of the line. Along the way I noticed many groups of friends chattering frantically about the concert. I started to feel out of place. As I waited in line I texted a lot more than normal to help myself “fit” into this social gathering. The group of people in front of me noticed I was alone and invited me to chat with them while we waited.

The group, which consisted of three guys and two girls, mentioned how it’s not fun to wait alone because they’ve all been there. It surprised me that individuals in this big group of people had gone to a concert alone, but they said sometimes it’s more fun to go alone because it provides opportunities to meet more people with the same musical interests. Being around people who actually appreciated the music we were all about to enjoy that evening made me feel like I belonged. I found a group to hang out with during the concert which made the experience even more memorable.

In the end, anyone held back by their thoughts of judgment will miss out on memorable experiences and opportunities. Life is too short to be held back by others. Get out there and do what makes you happy always, even if that means going it alone.