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Last month we got a Dear Krachel question from Kate, who asked:
“What do you do when you’re bored with life? Job, relationships, everything seems like such a drag.”
Well, Kate, I see your Dear Krachel question and raise you an entire blog post (I have no idea how to play poker, but I’m all in on this question).
I’ve personally been bored with life many times (and to a degree, STILL feel bored with a few aspects of life that feel stubbornly unchanging). So, do we blow everything up and start over? Wait for inspiration to strike? And is being bored with life OK, or is it problematic?
A BREAKUP CLICHÉ
You know how girls (and I dunno, maybe guys do this too!) will break up with a guy and then immediately change their hair?
I’ve done that at least twice. Once I got a short bob. And another time I dyed it red for a while.
Kristen is wary of dramatic haircuts, but I remember when she and her college boyfriend broke up, she gave her bedroom a makeover, took a rock-climbing class, and learned how to make pasta from scratch.
I’m sure you can relate, to some degree. So, what is it about breakups that make change easy?
I think it has something to do with the need to shed your proverbial skin. The more you change your appearance, hobbies, or routine, the easier it is to punctuate before and after. The breakup happened to that person, and now I am this person. My boyfriend never saw this hair or this bedroom. He knew that person, but he doesn’t fully know this person.
In becoming someone with a slightly different life, you make it harder to fit into the mold of the old one.
So, that’s my first major idea: If you’re tired of your life, or some facet of it, then become a breakup cliché.
Cut your hair. Sign up for a class. Cook something new. Plan a trip. Drive a different route home than usual. Marie Kondo your house. Donate your old clothes. Do something that shakes things up, clears out stale energy, and allows you to easily draw a line between then and now.
The reason it’s easy to do this after a breakup is because a breakup is an event — something to respond and react to. When you’re bored with life, it tends to mean that things are flatlining. There are no major events to react to, positive or negative. But there’s no rule that says you can’t proactively instigate breakup-level change.
OK RACHEL, BUT ISN’T THIS THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT YOU NORMALLY SAY?
I know, I know. I’m always harping on about how you can’t fix your internal state with external stuff. And I intend to harp more about that exact thing in a minute.
But I’m not saying that I think cutting your hair or taking a new class can magically fill a deep-seated existential void or reveal your entire life purpose. I do, however,think that it can kickstart momentum.
If, for example, every budding writer waited to write until they felt inspired, then we would have very little to read.
In Big Magic (which we’ve referenced about a million times by now), Liz Gilbert says that doing the work is the way you invite inspiration into your life. You sit down and start writing, even if you aren’t feeling it. And maybe, if the Muse so chooses, you’ll get into the flow of inspiration. Maybe not. It doesn’t happen every single time. But it will likely never happen if you’re idly waiting for it to show up.
The same is true when you’re bored. If you want to be inspired — literally to breathe inand be filled with life — then you need to do the resuscitating.
The nature of momentum is that it grows. Which means if you jumpstart your energy by doing something new or different, then inspiration has a chance to slip in and work its magic. What started as a small grain of excitement or insight can snowball into a total change in career direction, or a brand-new relationship, or a stroke of creative genius.
When you make the first move, it’s a declaration to the Universe that says, “OK, I’m serious about this. I want to change. I want something better! I don’t know what I’m doing, exactly, but I do know I don’t want to feel this way anymore. I’m going to do my part to clear out this staleness. I trust that if I start moving, you’ll meet me halfway!”
OK, I PROMISED I WOULD HARP, AND I SHALL
Sometimes boredom is a weariness with how you’re spending your time. You might be mostly satisfied with the broad strokes of your life — who you are as a person, your relationships, your general direction — but things have gotten a little stale. In that case, becoming a breakup cliché might be all the fresh energy you need to get out of your rut.
But if your boredom is more of the existential variety, then no amount of jaunty hair styling is going to cut it (pun obviously intended).
Existential boredom is a weariness that emanates from the soul. It’s not just about how you’re spending your time (though that’s part of it). It’s a disconnection from the meaning and purpose of life, itself.
If you’re having that deep of a reckoning, then you could find yourself in the midst of any number of activities that “should” be fun or energizing, but instead you feel fundamentally unable to connect with what you’re doing.
That’s because, like I said earlier, life purpose isn’t something you find in the outer world. It’s an inner state of being that ripples from the inside, out.
I can’t possibly do justice to the entire notion of life purpose in a couple of sentences. This is something that Kristen and I coach people on for months at a time. But I can tell you what people with a clear life purpose — as in, the people who feel most fulfilled, satisfied, and energized by life, and are clearly not bored — have in common:
- They are very clear on what they value on the deepest level, and they’ve made fundamental changes to their life that reflect that. If one of their core values is freedom, for example, they’re not forcing themselves into a career or a daily routine that makes them feel trapped.
- They define success on their own terms, and are good at not comparing themselves to other people.
- They’re satisfied with small pleasures and everyday joys, for the most part.
- They aren’t constantly chasing a goal, only to move the goalpost the second they reach it.
- They don’t believe that their worth is tied to what they do. Which means they don’t feel the need to constantly prove themselves or sacrifice their desires to please the crowd.
- They allow themselves free rein to follow their curiosity. And they don’t need to know where that curiosity might lead them. They trust that the point isn’t really to reach a destination, but to have interesting experiences along the way.
Boredom and stagnation are one and the same. And the reverse of stagnation is growth and movement. But to grow and move, you’ve got to have an idea of where you’re headed. And to be confident in where you’re headed, you’ve got to understand who you are.
When you know unequivocally who you are — as in, your core values, your beliefs, your desires, your preferences — and you remove the fears and obstacles that might be preventing you from being that person, you’re free to move in the right direction for you. And when you’re moving, it’s hard to be bored.
ALLOW ME TO CONTRADICT MYSELF ONE LAST TIME
I trust you guys can handle the degree of flip-flopping I’m doing in this blog. Many things can be true at once!
And another truth is that sometimes it’s totally fine to bored.
Most of us don’t like sitting still. Heck, most of us can’t sit for more than a minute or two without reaching for our phones! We’re pretty addicted to filling our time, even if it’s with mindless junk.
But boredom is actually a natural and important part of life. It often generates creativity. I read in Essentialism by Greg McKeown that Steve Jobs used to take vacations where he purposefully brought nothing to do — no books, no magazines, nothing — so that his mind would be free to unfurl.
So, there’s a chance that, if you’re bored, you might need to sit still, do nothing, and breathe through the discomfort. I think you’ll know if this is you. You’re likely the one who’s terrified of not being constantly busy or occupied.
Giving yourself some space, literally and figuratively, may be the thing that allows for inspiration to strike.
OK, so which of these approaches do you suspect is the most accurate for you? And what ideas do you have for banishing boredom? Come share with me in the comments.
Rachel (& Kristen)
IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU SHOULD ALSO LISTEN TO…
What to do when you feel overwhelmingly “meh” about everything (from 11/20/18)
The danger of living a life that’s OK, but not great (from 12/4/18)
You can’t cure the human experience with Kyle Ramsvig (from 4/10/18)
Side Chat: How to figure out what to do with your life (from 6/15/18)