How do I deal with loneliness?

A student asked:

How do I deal with loneliness? I wish I had a significant other to just chat about anything and everything.

I think for starters, it helps to recognise that negative feelings, like loneliness, are just feelings. It’s one of the many feelings that we experience, like joy and sadness. It’s because feelings like loneliness don’t feel so nice that we get alarmed by it. And when we focus our concentration on trying to get rid of it, what happens is that our minds lock on to the feeling and it becomes harder to let it go.

But there really isn’t a need to be alarmed when you experience such negative feelings like loneliness. They come and go like clouds in the sky. My advice is to treat such feelings like white noise. If you pay a lot of attention to white noise, you’ll hear it, and it becomes louder. And if you busy yourself with other things, it’ll fade away from your attention.

The reason why having a partner feels like a solution to loneliness is because you have someone you can help turn your attention away from that loneliness. But the feeling of loneliness will still creep up on you from time to time. It’s important to recognise that feelings of loneliness will exist regardless of whether you are in a relationship or single. A partner won’t solve the problem of loneliness, neither will having lots of close friends. It is, as I said just now, a feeling that comes and goes, sometimes without reason.

I sometimes find that we are our own enemies, and that our hearts and minds play tricks on us by giving us virtual problems that feel far too real. Perhaps it’s due to that existential emptiness, that void that lurks at the back of our minds and hearts. Sometimes it manifests itself as loneliness, sometimes it manifests itself as a sense of meaninglessness of life.

It is upsetting, for sure, and the feelings are very real. But as I’ve said, it’s the white noise of existence. And it comes and goes. And the more idle our minds are, the more it’ll surface to our attention. So please learn to not give it too much weight and attention when it comes. We don’t always have to run away from bad feelings. It’s just yet another feeling that we experience in the rich tapestry of life.

How do you stay motivated chasing your dreams (while also dealing with loneliness)?

A student wrote to me:

How do you stay motivated chasing your dreams (while also dealing with loneliness)?

Here’s what I wrote:

I’ll be honest and say that I never actively chased my dreams. I just like to start on many projects at once. Some projects will succeed, and some others will fail. And I’ll do that again when I get bored.

I will say that the career-defining moments for me have always been to say “YES!” to every opportunity that comes by way – even if I have zero experience or know nothing about the subject:

– Edit a book about science? YES!
– Help a WW2 veteran to write his memoirs? YES!
– Sell electronics to people worldwide? YES!
– Conduct workshops to a bunch of engineers? YES!
– Give a talk to a bunch of CEOs and people from the media? YES!
– Teach data analysis and Excel and coding at University level? YES!
– Write a white paper to invite policymakers and academics for a discussion? YES!
– Coordinate the running of an international conference? YES!
– Talk to government officials in China and make arrangements for filming in China (even with my poor command of Chinese)? YES!

Did it scare the hell out of me? Absolutely!!!!!!!! I was afraid and quite daunted. Sometimes I asked myself why I even bother to give myself so much stress while I spent days, weeks, even months of my life rushing to learn and prepare myself so that I can do it well. (Some of the things I listed above didn’t go well at all, but it was still valuable experience that opened up more doors for me anyway)

So I’ll say this. I’m a firm believer of this philosophy of life: Say yes first, and then figure it out later.

Partly because I like the challenge and the adrenaline rush, but at the same time, I know that I won’t get such experience ever again if I say “No.” It has been incredibly rewarding. I do hope many of you will find the courage to adopt this philosophy of life for yourself.

I think a lot of us undermine ourselves from going forward in life because we are too afraid of failure to even get started trying. But failure is educational, especially when you know how to evaluate what went wrong. And as I said elsewhere, the working world is pretty forgiving. If you make a mistake, you still can make changes since the work you do goes through multiple rounds of revisions.

Have I been lonely during these periods? Yes, incredibly lonely because I am the only one doing them and often times, have no one else to turn to. But I guess because I have deadlines to rush to (do or die), the loneliness doesn’t stand in the way of my work. In fact, once you get sufficiently busy and you’re into the zone, you tend to forget that you’re lonely. And that helps, I suppose. :)

So jiayou~! You can always message me if you need a listening ear. :)

Do you have any advice for dealing with loneliness while chasing one’s dreams?

A student asked me:

Do you have any advice for dealing with loneliness while chasing one’s dreams?

Here’s my reply:

I’m not sure what you mean by loneliness. Loneliness in the sense that you don’t have close friends; or don’t have friends who share your dreams/interest; or loneliness that you don’t have a romantic partner?

When I was an undergrad, I knew many people but felt very lonely. That was because I had shitty friends who did great at making me feel lonely (they’d hang out together without inviting me because I didn’t stay in Katong/Siglap like the rest of them, or if they did invite me, it was to very expensive eateries, so I’d opt out). Eventually, I realised I didn’t need this sort of shitty friends. Better to have a few close friends than to have many shitty ones.

Having pursued the academic path, I can tell you that it’s a bloody lonely journey. I’m envious of my peers who work in teams. I’m just a solo player here. It can be very lonely and miserable at times. But I also recognise how that gives me so much freedom to pursue all kinds of projects at my own pace.

Now, I don’t know what kind of loneliness you are referring to, so I will refrain from advice on dealing with loneliness.

What I will say is this: Since you have dreams you want to chase, you can channel all that lonely energy into being productive towards that dream. I know loneliness usually compels people to write emo poems or sing emo songs or shit like that. But you can tap on that energy and funnel it towards more creative expressions. It can be hard because the thing you do doesn’t match the mood (that’s why it’s easier to write pages and pages of emo poems instead), but the more you try, the easier it gets.

But at all times, be kind to yourself when the loneliness gets to you so bad it’s hard to work. Don’t suppress it, as it’ll only make it worse. Instead, let the feelings run its course to completion. If you need to take a day to emo, just do that. But don’t dwell into it and at all costs, don’t wallow in self-pity.

I always tell myself: Misery is the white noise of existence. Like white noise, once your attention is locked onto something else, you’ll pay no notice to the loneliness. But even if you do notice the misery, don’t be alarmed. It’s white noise and not actually an alarm. So we need to remind ourselves that it’s not as bad as we often perceive it to be.

Reflections Along the Singapore-Malaysia Railway Tracks

The railway tracks functions very well as a metaphor for a person’s life.


Sometimes, we have to walk the journey alone. But that’s ok because we’re surrounded by the beautiful blue sky.



But sometimes, the journey of life can be very scary – gloomy, even. At times, we have no choice but to walk through these moments of darkness – alone.



There are times where the darkness of the moment overwhelms us. Sometimes, we can’t help but feel severely burdened by the pain of walking alone.



Some unfortunately lose their soles because of this.



Jean-Paul Sartre said that, “Hell is other people.” But when we suffer from such dark moments of loneliness, we become our own hell. There’s no one to get in our way. There’s no one to annoy us. And yet, we feel so trapped, so imprisoned. It is as if our whole wings have been clipped, and our feet chained to the ground. In moments like these, we begin to crave for freedom like never before.



But what kind of freedom do we really need? Is it the freedom to go off the tracks? Or is it the freedom to touch the sky?



The darkness can be confusing. We know we want freedom, and yet we often don’t understand what it is that we truly need. And so, off we go chasing after a freedom which may not necessarily be the answer to our darkness.



But what does it profit a man to gain the world, but to lose his sole?



The greatest freedom comes when we begin to open our eyes to realise the many people – friends and strangers who are not yet friends – who are and have been walking along-side with us in such moments of darkness.



In such moments, the darkness doesn’t seem so dark anymore. When we begin to accept their friendship and help, the journey becomes more pleasant. The journey will still be rocky, but at the very least, we’re surrounded by fellow companions who are on the same journey. Soon enough, with their help, we find ourselves reaching the end of the tunnel, back out into the light.



Successfully perservering through such moments is like crossing over a bridge. It can be scary, but we can rest assured by the fact that we have friends waiting for us at the other end of the bridge.



At every moment of our lives, there is always at least one friend who accompanies us on our journey – whether we realise it or not.



As we continue walking on this journey of life, we’ll eventually meet the love of our life.



And at that beautiful moment of marriage, two tracks converge into one. But marriage isn’t just a merger of two lives. It brings together many many more! Friends and family from both tracks begin to walk along with us on that single track, chatting with us, annoying us, cheering us, working with us.



I think it’s important for us to always remember that the journey of life is always rocky. The ground is never gentle and smooth.



But no matter what, there’s always a beautiful blue sky covering us, watching over us. It’s a beauty that’s always there, but we rarely notice it. The secret of life is to always take a step back from the mad frenzy of life, look up, and contemplate the sky’s subtle beauty.


Loneliness – The Modern Phenomenon of Poverty

Mother Teresa commented that the greatest poverty in the world today is that an increasing number of people suffer from the lack of love rather than the lack of material needs.

Everyone suffers from loneliness in one way or another. Many, however, are not so fortunate as to have someone who is able to love them back, or for that matter, to truly love such that communion is attained.

As human persons, our hearts desire communion – where the heart speaks to heart, where bonding takes place, where both parties grow closer to each other.

But how often does this occur in our lives?

Some will have at least one friend capable of communing with. Yet, there are many who are not so blessed with such friendships. Many marriages these days do not even reach communion. Couples may talk a lot and even engage in intercourse, but their hearts do not speak to each other.

Sometimes, even if we have friends capable of attaining communion with us, it may be the case that we ourselves do not allow it to happen because of our fears or insecurities. For such a deep connection of hearts to take place, it requires opening ourselves up to a state of vulnerability. But as the saying goes, love conquers all fears. If I see that person as my friend, I should trust that this friend will not hurt me in such a state of vulnerability. If we worry all the time about being hurt, we give up every opportunity to be loved.

This lack of communion is perhaps the reason why so many of us have a strong desire to be understood, to be listened, to be loved.

We talk. And for the many of us who love talking, we love a lot. But in the midst of all that chatter, who listens carefully? In the midst of explaining ourselves, who tries to understand?

Few do.

We all want to love, yet deep in our hearts, we want to be loved, and perhaps to be loved more than to love. There are many around who, like us, share in this desire to be loved.

If we were to look back at our experiences of loneliness, we would discover that in many of these situations, we silently await the arrival of someone who would come to love us when we need it most. Very rarely would we find ourselves making the first move, as we are afraid of being looked upon as needy people.

As human persons, we share similar experiences of loneliness and act thus in a similar manner. If we ourselves are silently yearning for someone to love us, what more the lonely people around us, who, like us, silently await the day for someone to show some love, and perhaps to give them a chance to be listened, to be understood, to be loved.

Yet, if everyone is too busy waiting, who will provide it?

That is the challenge that is presented to us. Let us not be afraid to open up our hearts.

When love is encountered, hearts change, lives change, people change.

Where love is missing, put love in.