Apr 15, 2011

Posted by in Confessions & Personal | 18 Comments

Life Is Not Boring.

Once, an old man tried to convince me to write news reports for a living. Even though he knew I wanted to write creatively. He said that Hemingway was a reporter before he was a novelist.

I told him I wouldn’t do that because news reporting was boring. For that matter, Hemingway is boring, too. His style, inherited from news reporting, had less to do with creative genius and more to do with lack of writing ability:

“Sometimes in the dark we heard the troops marching under the window and guns going past pulled by motor-tractors. There was much traffic at night and many mules on the roads with boxes of ammunition on each side of their pack-saddles and gray motor trucks that carried men, and other trucks with loads covered with canvas that moved slower in the traffic. There were big guns too that passed in the day drawn by tractors, the long barrels of the guns covered with green branches and green leafy branches and vines laid over the tractors. To the north we could look across a valley and see a forest of chestnut trees and behind it another mountain on this side of the river.”

Great, so there are some soldiers and there’s some branches and tractors. Yawn. I wouldn’t be that surprised if sheer boredom with his own work was the real reason Hemingway shot himself in the face.

When I said that news reporting was boring, the old man’s reply was the most appalling thing I’d heard in quite some time: “Life is boring.” And then he proceeded to explain that teaching his own class was mostly boring, and that most people were mostly bored with their jobs and with life. He said this with an air of a wise mentor telling the young kid how it is. Essentially, I’m bored and I want everyone else to be bored with me. Well, no thanks.

The usual speech is that, while you might want to do something non-boring with your life, very few people get to do anything like that, and sooner or later you’re going to have to settle down and spend all day most days doing something incredibly boring and worthless. Any desire to spend your time on your passions is a sign of immaturity. Dreams are for chumps, and bills must be paid.

But I think it’s less about maturity and more about priorities. For as “impractical” as many dreams seem, there are often practical steps to getting there. It’s just that the steps are difficult and success is not guaranteed. For many of us, it comes down to: do you want to pursue stability at the expense of your passion, or do you want to pursue your passion at the expense of (perceived) stability? And I’m not knocking the former choice, especially if you’ve got others to provide for. But it is a legitimate choice.

Next time someone tells me that I should embrace a boring life, I’ll say what I was thinking that day: Life isn’t boring. Your life is boring. You’re boring. And if you want my life to be as boring as yours, then I never want advice from you again.

(If it wasn’t already obvious, I’m currently incredibly bored and frustrated and miles away from a career that makes me happy. Prayers are appreciated.)

Justin Mulwee

Justin is a penniless vagabond with a tiny internet soapbox.

  1. This was great. I can so relate.

    I’ve gotten that speech all my life: “while you might want to do something non-boring with your life, very few people get to do anything like that….” The implication usually is that there’s not much you can do about ensuring that you’re one of those lucky few. It’s also implied that it’s selfish to strive for an interesting life when almost everyone else has to settle for something boring. Who do you think you are?

    I’m in the midst of incredibly boring work myself, and feel guilty for wanting something more stimulating. I appreciate being given permission to want more out of life.

    (Where do you get your awesome images, by the way? This one is especially great).

  2. Justin, this reminds me of Adaptation, and if you haven’t seen it, you should…I think you’d enjoy it.

  3. What I tell my kids:
    There are no boring things in life, only incredibly boring people.
    Boredom is in the mind of the bored.
    Boredom is mental sloth.
    If your bored, it is because you choose to see life as boring.
    Boredom is the offspring of discontent and sloth.

    So, I would not say you should settle for a boring job, or a boring life, but be content with the life you are given and make it exciting. A good start would be to stop complaining about what you see as boring; that is a sign of immaturity, as is being bored. You may not end up with a job that feeds your passion like you want, but that should not keep you from pursuing your passion. As a matter of fact, having a tame, tedious, predictable job sometimes makes it easier to put your energy into what you love doing on the side.

    I am kind of an old guy too, and I think I undersand the advice you were given. It is more about contentment than boredom. People don’t just “settle” for boring. Sometimes they choose security, predictability, and lower risk for good reasons. As you said, it is a matter of priorities. When you are young, inexperienced and single, you can live a more exciting, passionate, and interesting existence, and it is OK to pursue such a thing. Once you are in a position of responsibility towards others (wife, kids), priorities may change, and it would be immature to expect to maintain the same lifestyle that you did when young and single.

    Having said all that, I still moved my family around, lived overseas, and had a life with a higher level of excitement for the first 10 or so years of marriage. It was not because I became bored with where I was, but because I chose to follow where God led, even if it was hard (or tedious).

  4. All the people I can recall who have adopted the life-is-boring-so-deal-with-it attitude were those that don’t really believe in anything, don’t really stand for anything. Socrates was a stone cutter, Jesus a carpenter, Paul a tent-maker, and while they may have done these things (off and on) to pay the bills, they clearly did not define their lives. Those who don’t have anything else going for them besides their day jobs are usually the ones who are most bored with life. But people like you and me who know that though victory is assured the battle must still be fought, who know that there are souls to save and worlds to win, only need to be reminded that our day jobs are only a tedious necessity in order to sustain ourselves at the most basic level, and that our true sustenance is bread from Heaven and the work God has for us to do.

  5. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation…”

    As has been said, this is true only because people choose to not see more possibilities in life. Christians should be the last people to buy into this mindset.

    Great article :)

  6. If you think reporters cannot be creative, I must politely say that you are mistaken. Reporting takes a good deal of creativity, especially in an age where keeping the reader reading is harder than ever.

    Having said that, straight news stories are not my favorite. Yet I write them all the time. As a reporter, I also get to do feature stories, and through these, I have more freedom. They are my creative outlet. The best thing about writing for a newspaper is that it forces you to write every day about things you often could care less about, yet you must write them anyway. Why is this a good thing? If you can write well about a school budget, how much better could you do with something that really interests you? The reason I went into newspaper work is that I figured it’s the best possible training for becoming a better writer. Many of my favorite authors, Hemmingway excluded, once worked for newspapers. For me, it’s a means to an end. And in the year and a half I’ve been reporting, I think I have gotten better, in part because of all those boring stories. One day, I figure I’ll have the skills to work with material I really want to work with.

  7. Daniel Rubio says:

    @ tech.Sam

    You got the point of the article, but missed the point of the point.

  8. Daniel Rubio says:

    “When you are young, inexperienced and single, you can live a more exciting, passionate, and interesting existence, and it is OK to pursue such a thing. Once you are in a position of responsibility towards others (wife, kids), priorities may change, and it would be immature to expect to maintain the same lifestyle that you did when young and single.”

    This sounds like an excellent argument against marriage and children. It had better be false.

  9. Justin Mulwee says:

    @Kathleen

    Well said. To answer your question, I get a lot of pictures from Wikipedia or sites dedicated to dead artists. I like the Blackbird to have an oldschool vibe, which makes in doubly convenient that the copyright expires 70 years after the artist does.

  10. @Daniel

    I left it pretty open. Priorities may change. Expecting priorities to stay the same through very life-changing decisions like marriage and parenthood is naive. It is the joy of youth to pursue life experiences with less responsibility. The joy of not-youth is the experience of greater responsibility. Both are fulfilling, but they cannot always be pursued at the same time. This is really not about boring vs. exciting. Marriage and parenthood are in no way boring, but they are also not easy or fun (in general). But good comes in many forms.

    As I mentioned in my comment, my own life has been far from boring, and for almost all of my adult existence I have been married and a father. But I am not a botanist, nor a forest ranger, nor a subsistence farmer. If I hold those up as dreams unfulfilled, I denigrate the path I have taken. You, and many of those who write or comment on this site, are still in the phase of choosing those paths. My point is that the path you choose will only be boring if you let it, but excitement is not the opposite of boring, contentment is.

  11. Daniel Rubio says:

    At this point I’m not clear on what you’re trying to say. Is it that nothing is intrinsically boring as long as you find contentment? In that case I flatly disagree.

    Is it that the interesting things in life change as life changes? That seems trivially true but also doesn’t get at the point Justin was making.

  12. My point is that both boredom and contentment are internal conditions, and a choice of perspective. Justin does not want to settle for less than a career that fulfills his passion. I see that as a false ideal, putting too much emphasis on the external. It is not the role of a career to fulfill your passion. A career provides livelihood. If you can gain fulfillment ever, you are doing better than most. But this is not because most people happen to have a boring job, but because most people believe that fullfillment is external and therefore out of their control. My point is that these things are internal, and the underlying belief needs to be questioned. Taking a “good enough” job in order to live is not the same thing as giving up your passion. Choosing to be content with the job you can get does not have to mean settling for a boring life.

  13. Daniel Rubio says:

    The opposite of boredom is not contentment; one can be content yet bored, so I think you’re challenging Justin with a false dilemma.

    That being said, yes, most jobs are boring. I suppose if you’re stuck with a boring job you should make the most of it.

    That does not mean that you shouldn’t try and find fulfilling work. It is not illicit to desire a job that fits into one’s skills and passions. Even if it is somewhat rare, that’s no reason to think it a questionable mindset to seek work that is intrinsically interesting.

    There’s this funny notion out there that “life” or “family” requires spending most of one’s waking hours in drudgery, and anyone who thinks otherwise is chasing a pipe dream. “The real world is not like that. The real world sucks – resign yourself to it and it’s bearable.”

    Well excuse me if I find that an unwarrantedly pessimistic perspective. I want a world that is not bearable or something to simply become content with. Those of you who talk about think that way can have your dull real world. I’ll continue working to stay as far away from it as I can.

  14. xenoglossa says:

    “The opposite of boredom is not contentment; one can be content yet bored[...]”

    I agree with what Dan said above. But I think TechSam is using boredom in a special sense closer to the existentialist concept of ennui. If so, I think TechSam can agree that one could be simultaneously bored—in the more pedestrian sense—yet content, because it is possible to recognize that a so-called boring job isn’t meaningless.

    Thus, boredom—in the existentialist sense—is the result of an internal state; i.e., it results from the belief that your work is meaningless, (even if it is tedious, mindnumbing, etc.).

    I wonder if this debate is being fueled by the fear that settling for a boring job is tantamount to believing, falsely, that your work is meaningful?

  15. Hi Justin,

    Here are my reflections on your thoughts…
    Boredom is just an excuse (euphemism?) for lack of creativity.
    If your life is boring it may be time to re-discover yourself.

    Having spent many years in the newspaper field I disagree with your statement that news reporting is boring. The news itself might be considered ‘boring’ but a good writer can make it interesting.

  16. Timothy Rain Parker says:

    When you’re bored with your work or whatever it is. It only means one thing you don’t like it anymore. So move on and let go. Just make sure you will never regret moving on and leaving your work which makes you bored.

  17. Man, what a take on the “lfe is boring” vamp I see a lot on blogs…yesh, I have time to waste just surfing culture blogs, but this was certainly not wasted. Dug this man. Keep this up…am bookmarking! Tommy

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