It’s safe to say that most of us have experienced a higher-than-average level of boredom in the last 12 months. Nothing like having everything closed and being forced to stay at home to make you wonder what exactly to do with your time. For many of us, the answer was to complain about it. I’ve certainly done that.
But eventually, even complaining about being bored gets kind of boring – and when that happens, most of us have a tendency to branch out into some new direction to find a way out of our endlessly boring existence.
My stepfather is a great example. He’s in his 70s and has a history of asthma, so he decided to stick to a fairly strict quarantine. He’s stopped going to the shooting range and limited his trips to the grocery store and all the other benign errands that nevertheless give us the sense of ‘doing something’ other than sitting on the couch. He’s spent a lot of time sitting on the couch and reading.
But apparently he eventually ran out of books, because a few months ago he decided to take up painting. He’s never painted before in his life (except maybe a house), but he decided to buy a few supplies and watch a few YouTube tutorials.
Which turned into more tutorials, and more supplies, and more tutorials. And now, with considerably less than a year of practice, he’s able to paint pictures like this:
I can say quite confidently that his paintings are light years better than anything I could hope to create myself. At least right now. I suppose it’s possible that he’s always had the gift for painting and just now realized it 70-something years later. But it’s also possible that he’s not intrinsically better than anyone else; he’s just spent more time practicing than most of us.
I don’t know if he would have found this new hobby if he hadn’t gotten dangerously bored during his lockdown, but I do know it’s a hobby he’s glad to have discovered, and it’s one he’ll be able to keep with him for the rest of his life.
By definition, boredom isn’t fun. Nobody likes being bored. But sometimes, being bored is exactly what we need in order to let our minds expand beyond their current horizons. Sometimes, being bored can lead us down paths that are invisible when life is more interesting.
So this year, I hope you get a little bored from time to time. In fact, I hope you get so bored you can hardly stand it. Because it turns out that boredom is a critical part of the recipe for positive change.