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On navigating isolation, together

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Carl Jung defines an extroverted attitude as “a standpoint characterized by an outward flowing of personal energy — an interest in events, in people and things, a relationship with them and a dependence on them.” An extrovert is energized by their daily interactions; physically drained by their lack thereof. Those who know me well would probably classify me as such. I’ve found tremendous happiness at Stanford, no doubt because it so effortlessly brings the people and things I love most together in one place. 

My departure from Stanford, much like everyone else’s, was characterized by confusion compounded by ever-increasing uncertainty. As I hurtled down the five on my drive home — my buggy only half full, as if intentionally leaving belongings improved my chances of a spring quarter return — it struck me that for the first time in my life, I did not have the faintest idea of what my future had in store. When classes were cancelled a few days later, my new reality — a quarter of isolation — finally became crystal clear. 

Those first few days were the hardest. I’m fortunate to have a stable home and a family I love, a blessing I realize now more than ever is not something to be taken for granted. Nevertheless, for me, Carl Jung was spot on: Never had I felt more out of gas. I spent hours mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, Snapchat, text messages, switching between the three over and over, fully aware that a notification couldn’t have possibly come in in the last couple of seconds. I spent more consecutive hours in bed those first few days than I ever had; never had the one flight of stairs from the kitchen to my room felt more like a trek. I just didn’t have my usual energy. 

After a week or so, I resolved to stop wallowing in my self pity. Stick to a routine, my parents said. You have technology at your fingertips — just Zoom your friends. And so I tried. I scheduled Zoom Catan, poker, Skyped to play League of Legends with my cousins. I Netflix-partied movies, threw Zoom birthdays and wine nights. Sometimes it really helped. Other nights, it didn’t as much. Never had “how was your day” fallen so woefully short, the awkward pauses as my friends scrambled to think of a single thing they did that day exacerbated by my overburdened WiFi. Some days I was so consumed with making my days feel busy again that I didn’t spend enough time with my family — in person. And I was so caught up in my head; was I reaching out too much? Not enough? Was it reciprocal or should I let people have time to themselves? 

It’s now Day 30, and I’ve learned a lot. I now know that although online interaction is no substitute for in person communication, the switch may have an unforeseen benefit: It has forced me to identify the specific attributes of my everyday exchanges I find most meaningful.  Netflix party is even better if you FaceTime, muted, until you have something to say — that way, you can still add your commentary no one wanted to hear even in person. When a recap of the day’s events doesn’t suffice, ideas still do. Send articles instead; spirited debates know no bounds. At home workouts are great but yoga classes are more fun live — especially if you’re lucky enough to know Hesham at YogaSource. Scheduling may be necessary at Stanford but there’s also tremendous value in spontaneity: Call people out of the blue (no pre-call text required). And in a time when we’re inundated with statistics — infection rates, death tolls and stock market plunges — measuring reciprocity simply must be the most useless exercise of them all. 

Isolation may be no place for an extrovert, but being out of my comfort zone has pushed me to pinpoint exactly what aspects of my daily interactions I treasure most. At first, my efforts fell short because they didn’t leave space for the side commentary, the exchange of meaningful ideas and the spontaneity necessary for real connection. Proving to myself that I can begin to replicate that even in the most extraordinary of circumstances has shown me that my happiness is more transportable than I had thought. 

With moments to reflect, this time of uncertainty can teach us how precious the unplanned moments and sudden connections are. And perhaps it is this crystallization of what makes us happiest, possible only because of our isolation now, that can allow all of us, juniors especially, to maximize our remaining time. Thomas Slabon writes in The Daily that this is a time to reflect on the necessity of grades: I argue that all of us can also reflect on what makes us happiest in our everyday interactions, and be sure to incorporate that in our future, in-person interactions. 

As I look ahead, I remain tremendously hopeful for what’s to come as we all consider how to best incorporate what we’ve learned in quarantine. I hope that fall not only brings us that much closer to a vaccine and an end to this pandemic, but that it impacts the way we interact with people at Stanford. I hope that we become more appreciative of our everyday interactions with our friends and professors, our side conversations now all the more meaningful. I hope “shooting your shot” no longer means a day-before-Special-D three-line text invitation. I hope we move away from the rigidity of the Stanford schedule and Coupa dates responsibly calendared in, and embrace spontaneity.

After successfully completing a quarter of 22 units with little structure, perhaps we’ll finally see that schedule and rigidity are not as important as we had claimed. I hope fall brings the elusive cure for the Stanford flake; since we have all the time we’d ever need right now, we will never be too busy for a social interaction again. I hope we grow more comfortable in the face of uncertainty and more willing to create our own happiness by identifying what matters most for ourselves. But more than anything, I hope to see you all Zoom.

Contact Caroline Spertus at cspertus ‘at’ stanford.edu

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