Before my current relationship, I took a serious hiatus from the dating scene and experienced the single life. By my 20s, I had grown tired of casual dating and childish mind games. I deeply craved meaningful conversation and personal growth.

My focus shifted to earning my university degree and traveling the world, and, with no interest in tossing a relationship into the mix, I was able to do just that. At 22, I completed my degree after having studied on three different continents. I also crossed dozens of new countries off my list of dream travel destinations and made heaps of amazing, lifelong friends.

With a newfound focus on my goals and myself, being single taught me countless lessons about what I wanted in life. After reminiscing about how I changed in those five years, I’ve put together a list of the five most important lessons I learned from being single.

Know Yourself

Being single is an opportunity to spend more time by and with yourself. In five years of being single, I learned that spending time alone is very different from being lonely. Spending time by yourself allows you to be introspective – to learn about who you are, what you value, and what you want in life.

Sometimes in life – whether after a break up or while in or seeking a relationship – we neglect ourselves. Being single is a constant way to practice self-awareness. It is a practice of checking in with yourself to see whether or not you feel you’re moving in what you deem as the “right” direction. Knowing yourself is the key to growth and to finding a suitable partner down the road.

Believe in Yourself

Oftentimes in relationships, you begin to rely on your partner’s presence or knowledge. Being single is a great time to get out of your comfort zone and explore what you’re interested in.

Telling people you’re a “strong, independent woman” (or man) doesn’t mean much if you don’t act on it. And what better time to start than the present?

Figure out how to change a car tire. Go to that concert by yourself. Or practice small talk with new people so you can bring someone else to that concert. Be confident in who you are and what you can do (and if you don’t feel confident, put on a brave face and try it anyway!).

Build Your Network

Love comes in different shapes and sizes – not only romantic. In a relationship, it can be easy to default to spending all your free time with your significant other.

Being single frees up your schedule more than you might think, which means you can invest more time and energy into friendships, family, and meeting new people.

Dedicate some time each week to catching up with friends, checking in with family, and mingling with a few new faces. If you’ve taken the previous lessons to heart and are building your confidence, you will gradually become more comfortable interacting, which will draw others to you. More importantly, since you’re becoming more aware of who you are and what you want, you’ll start drawing in the right kinds of people.

Appreciate Yourself

Don’t go chasing ‘what if’s and waterfalls. You are where you are. Enjoy yourself! Find ways to be present and grateful for everything you’ve got going for you. Take advantage of the time you spend with friends and family. Congratulate yourself when you try something new. Celebrate when you accomplish a goal or make a new friend.

Alternatively, practice self-compassion on the tough days. Be patient and understanding on the days when you don’t want to get out of bed. Bad days are part of the journey – whether you’re single or not. Just remember that even though the grass looks greener on the other side, it’s greenest where you water it. So water your grass and grow your garden. You’re doing great.

Pursue Your Passions

Being single and doing what you want doesn’t necessary mean going absolutely wild and doing a bunch of things you’ll later regret. Instead, it’s about defining happiness for yourself and pursuing that happiness!

What do you want your life to look like next week or next year? How can you start moving in that direction? Think about and act on what you want. Now is the time to start! Now is your time.

When I returned home after my final semester – a five-month internship in South Africa – I met my current partner. Both of us had been single for some time, pursuing dreams of travel and outdoor sports. Because of this, we knew what we wanted – both for ourselves and in a partner. We had learned crucial life lessons by spending time watering our own grass and experiencing life by and for ourselves. I think this is a huge factor into why we’re still going strong two years later.

Being single is your time to find (or maybe create) yourself. After all, your most important relationship is the one with yourself. And, just like any relationship, this takes time, practice, and love. Feeling self-aware and complete is a lifelong journey. But it’s a beautiful journey and one that’s always worth pursuing.

MelissaSteginus_Written by: Melissa Steginus,  a freelance writer and yoga teacher. With a background in social work, she shares her passion for holistic health, living simply, and building community.