Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why I Go Out

My friend Neha sent me this piece Why Go Out, in which Sheila Heti compares going out (to bars, clubs, parties, and the like*) to a cigarette habit, discusses the merits of being alone, and concludes that social interaction may be a necessary evil. While I agree that people should be honest with themselves about why they go out (to fill voids; to avoid knowing themselves), going out can provide more than just a quick fix for the voids they may be trying to fill.

I agree with the idea that being with people makes you addicted to being with people. I have found that when I have been surrounded by people, I feel more lonely when I am alone. When I have a roommate, I desire social interaction more than when I live alone. I find it important to spend time alone in order to establish the equanimity of being alone as a home base. Spending much of the week "out" certainly gets in the way of self-reflection, self-knowledge, and self-friendship.

Going out is more than a quick fix for me: it is an important part of my character development and well-being. Because of the public persona I find it important to maintain, going out forces me to act happy and carefree. Going out gets me out of my head and keeps me in practice of making small talk. It makes me realize I am not the only person in the world and that my problems are irrelevant to most people. I often feel more confident, happy, and agreeable after being out than after spending time alone or even with a close friend.

Establishing a productive framework for going out takes commitment. The more you go out, the more you get invited out, and the more people you meet. This makes you more statistically likely to attend better parties and have better friends, based on whatever definition of "better." A couple of years ago I established the rule "always go out" for weekend evenings. This has caused dramatic improvement in not just my social life but also my productivity: I am feel much happier and more creative now. Everybody wins.

And so I go out, not just out of habit, but to establish habits that bring more human connection and happiness. Yes, I would sometimes rather be at home, but it does not mean that being home is better for me.

* The "going out" Heti talks about seems to describe a specific kind of going to bars to drink and to pick up people. I also find that fairly empty and depressing; I can see how it can be addictive. As a graduate student in Cambridge I am lucky to have found the "party circuit" of grad students who go out and are also nice and interesting people. Being able to so easily "go out" among friends is not the norm.


Nikolay said...

Once you leave the well-organized environment populated with people of the same age and life goals that is high school and college (and maybe grad school?), you pretty much have to develop a bunch of organizational skills or risk being left behind in terms of social and professional connections and social knowledge and skills (more than just small talk).

That's especially true for ambitious professionals who will tend to isolate themselves often to make progress on their personal goals.

A lucky few can make a living with a career where their professional aspirations involve a lot of socializing "for free", such as any field that produces items suitable for mass consumption, e.g. arts and entertainment.

I often wonder what other, less visible fields with a large social surface area are. Within the software industry, I think marketing, PR, business development, and sales are examples, whereas most software engineering is at the other end of the spectrum.

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