Alone and Content: Finding Your ‘True North’

By Gwenn Voelckers

I’ve discovered that a key to living alone successfully is to determine who you really are and what you want from life.

My own path to contentment took some time, some growing pains — setbacks as well as successes — and some aching losses before I found my “true north.” It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been well worth the journey.

The reward has been a life on my own filled with more peace, freedom and joy than I could have imagined.

The journey began with a set of soul-searching questions to identify and clarify my beliefs, values, likes and dislikes. I was careful to focus on what matters to me and to steer clear of “shoulds” and other people’s agendas.

The result? I created a list of personal principles and preferences that illuminated the way forward and shaped my future as a self-sufficient, independent women.

Now, in the happy third chapter of my life, I am comfortable being me and expressing my true self. In no particular order, below are just a few examples of my insights (some profound, others practical and a few whimsical) that have inspired and guided me:

• Gratitude, forgiveness, and loving kindness are life staples to embrace, practice and model on a daily basis.

• Gathering with friends and family around a fire, indoors or out, enhances life. It’s warm, relaxing and hypnotic — a life essential in my book.

• If I am unhappy with an aspect of my life and choose to stick with the status quo, nothing will get better.

• A stick shift is, hands-down, superior to an automatic transmission. Driving is so much more fun. It’s all I’ve ever owned.

• Hardship, failure and loss can build strength and self-awareness. Taking time and turning inward can create space for reflection and renewal of the spirit. Remember: after rain there are rainbows.

• An honest-to-goodness listener (not a pretend listener) melts my heart.

• Music makes life better. I enjoy playing and listening to all genres of music, but I always return to the Great American Songbook.

• As an introvert, solitude, nature and meditation recharge my batteries.

• Letting go of old ways of thinking, of a poor self-image, or of destructive thoughts or behaviors can free us up to embrace life’s blessings.

• Gardening is a great teacher. Fertile ground exists in each of us, and a little planning, caretaking and patience can produce beautiful results.

• Solo travel is an adventure not to be missed. It’s good for the mind, deepens the soul and fosters confidence.

• Living alone doesn’t mean being alone. We are social beings. We need each other. Relationships are the glue.

Compiling my full list of insights took time and thought. For those coming out of a long relationship, determining or rediscovering “who you really are” can be a daunting process.

After years of focusing on the needs and desires of a spouse and family, many discover that, somewhere along the way, they have disappeared around the edges and lost their own sense of self.

Rediscovering yourself and identifying those things that bring joy and meaning into your life can turn living alone into an adventure of the spirit. Once you establish your individual interests and means of self-expression, you may find that time alone and the silent moments between events no longer feels empty.

Below is an exercise to help you get back in touch with your true self. These are but a few of the questions to contemplate on your road to self-discovery.

Spend some time answering these 10 questions

1. Search back. What hobbies did you pursue as a child that gave you joy? What did you do particularly well or (perhaps secretly) take pride in?

2. More recently, when do you completely lose yourself in something? What activities make you feel alive and complete, as though nothing is missing?

3. What do you hold most dear?

4. How do you want to be remembered?

5. What is your biggest regret? If you could have a “do-over,” what would you do differently?

6. How would your life change (or get better) if you were a more curious person?

7. What brings tears to your eyes?

8. If you were to dedicate your life and resources to a particular cause or charity, what would it be?

9. What does your perfect day look like?

10. How do you want to describe yourself and your life a year from now?

Then, take action

After answering these questions, ask yourself how you can use these insights to influence the direction of your life. What can you do today to reconnect with a past love or pursuit, to delve more deeply into an existing interest, or to fulfill a new passion or purpose?

When you identify your values and the things you love to do, and pursue them, you will feel more integrated and in touch with your true self. You’ll be spending your time immersed in pursuits that bring you personal satisfaction — pursuits that reinforce who you are and who you want to become.

Those of us who live alone have the gift of abundant time to ourselves. Use it wisely. Use the time to get to know yourself all over again.

With each passing day, I am confident you’ll find your internal compass, unique to you, pointing north – your true north.

Gwenn Voelckers leads Alone and Content empowerment workshops for women held in Mendon and is the author of “Alone and Content: Inspiring, empowering essays to help divorced and widowed women feel whole and complete on their own.” For information about workshops, to purchase her book, or invite her to speak, call 585-624-7887, email, or visit