by Megan McDonough
One day, some years ago, when my son, Jonathan, was home sick from school, he got to hang out with me and see firsthand what I did during the day—the laundry, writing, recycling, returning books to the library, talking on conference calls, and working on the computer, among other things. By day three, he was well enough to go back to school, and sick and tired of my daily routine.
When I asked him what he thought of my activities, he looked at me sideways with his eyes slightly rolled up, as if disgusted. “Mom,” he said, “you lead a very boring life.”
Such is the glory and adoration of motherhood.
He was right, of course. I often thought that myself as I picked up his dirty socks. It must be very freeing, I thought, to whip off those socks at the end of the school day and fling them to far corners of the room or under the couch.
Life as an adult means responsibility, and that can definitely be a big bore.
Whether you’re going to school, have a high-powered executive job, are doing mom things, or are simply writing, it can all look boring from the outside. And it can feel boring at times on the inside.
Boredom has some redeeming qualities that are easy to overlook in our desire to be entertained.
Boredom can come from doing the same thing over and over. That’s called practice. Maybe Mozart got bored with composing. Or Amelia Earhart got bored of flying. Or Bill Gates got bored of computers.
It may look exciting from the outside, but boredom happens in every human life. It’s part of the human experience.
In his book The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell wrote that getting to be the best at something has to do with the magical number 10,000.
Give any skill 10,000 hours of practice and you’ll be an expert at it. In that period of time, I bet you would feel bored at some point and want to give it up for something more exciting. And maybe your son would tell you that your life is boring.
Sometimes boredom can be a wake-up call, inviting you to do something exciting, new, and adventurous to break out of a routine. But sometimes boredom is just the price you pay to get really, really good at something you value. Then a day comes when you surprise yourself by your level of expertise, not really sure how that brilliance came out of such drudgery.
I still don’t see how picking up dirty socks can lead to an expertise (and I really don’t care to be an expert at housekeeping, thank you very much). But I can see how showing up for the writing day in and day out, even when it’s pure drudgery to do so, makes me a better writer. That’s a skill worth working at, in my book.
What are you practicing over and over again? What’s the skill you’re willing to be bored with as you work towards the 10,000-hour master level?
During the course of a life we’re all spending that amount of time on something—whether it’s 10,000 hours of complaining, living deliberately, building a business, or mothering.
Whether or not you find it boring at times is not at all important. It’s just part of the journey. The real importance is that thing you’re giving your 10,000 hours to cultivate. Is it a skill you feel is worth it?
This post is excerpted from “A Minute for Me: Learning to Savor Sixty Seconds,” © 2012, by Megan McDonough.
Megan McDonough is CEO of Wholebeing Institute, an educational organization co-founded with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. WBI is committed to spreading ideas and practices that can help individuals and groups live life to its fullest.
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