Maybe it’s the time change. Maybe it’s the comedown from an adrenaline and stress filled week that included travel and troubles and toddler trips to urgent care. Maybe it’s just me trying to drink less beer and smoke fewer cigarettes. Or maybe it’s none of the above, but my goodness this week I am bored.
Boredom is not new to me. It’s what led to most of the nights I won’t talk about from those years in the underground techno scene. It led to much of the writing and rewriting of that tiny unpublished book that I revised a thousand times after grad school. When not kept at bay, boredom also led to most of my moves, all of my breakups, and just about all major life decisions I have made. For as long as I can remember, boredom has been that little bird on my shoulder that, if I sit still too long, will sink its claws into my skin and send me jumping for the door, grasping out for whatever big change I can find. But here’s the twist – no matter how intimately acquainted I have been with the state of being bored, I never realized that it could apply to me even now, even to someone so desperately overloaded. Stay at home moms whose kids have gone off to school or friendless retirees with basic cable could get bored, but certainly not someone as fully occupied in every moment as me. It used to be that so long as I was busy, I wasn’t bored and I wasn’t likely to create much trouble for myself. Only recently have I started to recognize that slow creep of boredom back into my life, but it is boredom in a whole new breed. My boredom is caused neither by an excess of time nor a lack of stimulation, but by a fundamental weariness that has set in, a restlessness that seems to be begging more for a long pause than a big night out. I am too busy too much of the time to do much of anything other than talk about how busy I am. It’s gotten so bad I’ve become boring even to myself – if I have to listen to myself have even just one more conversation about how busy I am, I’m going to jump out of my living room window (but don’t worry, I live in a single story house, and I will most likely take my laptop with me so I can of course continue to blog about my busy-ness ad nauseam and into infinity). So instead of just adding complaints of boredom to the already persistent busy-ness jabber, I think for once I might like to face it head on, see if I can’t fix it, or at least diminish its strength by understanding its source. I hope that this newfound busy-boredom is simply linked to the difficulty I have sitting still. I am busy, but that busy routine has gone back to being just routine. The move is over (or to be more accurate, I’ve gotten bored of moving and just decided to let the house be as it is). After a very busy beginning of the semester my workload has evened out, and after months of madness there are no more public presentations or secret job prospects, no risky political moves waiting in my back pocket. I haven’t met any new friends in a good long while, gone to any good new restaurants, discovered any great new bands. Nothing, it would seem, is in motion, and this is a very uncomfortable place for me to be. But I fear there is more at play here than a little discomfort.
At the last professional conference I went to, I was stunned to hear through the rumor mill that a colleague of mine was planning to leave higher education in order to help run his husband’s small business. It just didn’t make any sense to me – this was one of the most successful people I had ever met in my career, someone who seemed born to work in higher ed. In five short years he went from being a glorified student activities planner to being the de facto head of school at an elite college, and now he was giving it all up. As it turns out, he was bored too. When I got back to the office (back to that oppressive, suffocating lack of change that is my job right now) I sent an email congratulating him, and after a few quick back and forths of catching up messages he wrote: “Be Brave! Be Bold! Follow your heart and your love!” I thought again about this (now ex-) colleague of mine over the weekend when I was listening to an interview with Alain de Botton while folding my way through a giant pile of laundry. He was discussing success (as he often does), and at the very end of the conversation, almost as a throwaway, he talked about success and choice, basically saying that the notion of work-life balance is bullshit, not realistic in the least. Success necessitates choices, he said. You can either be good at being a parent or you can be good at your career. You can’t be both.
My knee jerk reaction to this, of course, is to say that this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Clearly Mr. de Botton hasn’t met me or a million other working moms like me. Clearly he is drawing his conclusions from observations of people less driven, less stubborn. But then I realized – I’m bored because I’m trying too hard to be successful at something that just doesn’t matter enough to me to validate the diminished success in other areas of my life. My job is not my heart or my love, and yet every day is about this crazy routine of freeways and business casual Fridays and packing up little daily meals for daycare. And every day, it seems, gets me a little farther away from success, because every day is just another day my daughter is growing up without me as her guide. I might not have the option to make as dramatic a change as my newly reformed and invigorated friend, but maybe the choice doesn’t have to be quite so all or nothing. Maybe all it will take is reframing what I’m working toward, redefining my priorities, making a choice on a smaller scale. With my daughter to cheer me along, I just might manage to work an eight-hour day without feeling guilty! It might not be all that brave or all that bold, but we’ve all got to start somewhere.