The Benefits of Boring

I am boring.  While it is debatable whether or not this is my most reprehensible quality, it is a great launching pad.

Being boring has opened many doors during my admittedly dilettante life.  My boring traits have manifested in many qualities that I cherish.  Here are just a few:

Handy and Dependable

What I actually am is industrious, practical, and curious.  I can do most anything I need done with respect to my physical world, all with a degree of skill and craftsmanship.  What I don’t have the specific knowledge to do, I certainly feel I could do, given enough time to study.  My interest in the small things in life, the clockwork of the world, let alone my interest in neuroscience, forensics, and other puzzles of “if A then B”, is simple fascination with every wonder around me.  It’s not that I’m not a big thinker, but the unsolved puzzle is nearly irresistible.

I began taking things apart since a young age.  Electronics mostly. I could solder correctly since I was 10.  I wrote “video games” and insanely complex story based games on the Heath-Zenith computer my parents bought us.   I remember rearranging an animal skeleton I found in the woods, trying to reassemble the creature long dead from the bones I could find nearby.  I’d fix my own bike.

I wasn’t a homebody, even though I loved the hours in front of a computer or a sketchbook.  In those days, every kid wandered the neighborhood.  Alleys and rooftops were explored, as well as woods and playgrounds.  We built bike ramps to jump over streams and played every sport imaginable.  We went on backpacking trips and loved camping. This history still feeds the appreciation in my current life of everything athletic and any adventure outdoors, especially hiking and backpacking.

My dad grew up as a farmer, put himself through college, and became a teacher and a coach. My mom had a similar route. Hard work was a constant theme in our house. I’d spend part of my childhood summers maintaining my lawn mowing business to come home to pitch the roof on the car port of our modest midwestern home.  And play, lots of it. Everything was familiar and sincere, but small and limiting in ways.

My adult life, as a result, had many firsts.  I first had Chinese food when I was 18. My first time on an airplane wasn’t until I was 21.  I only learned to cook when I got married, and that was like a door was kicked open to experimenting.  It was electronics and soldering and home repair, but edible and satisfyingly different and sophisticated. I felt, and often feel, naive in everything.

Music was my teenage escape, more than reading.  I veered from top 40 into punk rock and metal as a teenager.  But like the others, this taste in music was limited until I became an adult.  (See my other post on this subject.) Later, jazz, classical, country, blue grass, and even tuvan throat singing entered my world.

I did read, but it was an assortment of the standards (Dumas, Twain and Steinbeck) mixed with popular fiction at the time (King, Clancy, Cussler, and Grisham) or mysteries and pulp (MacDonald, Hillerman, Sanders, and Westlake).  I entered a phase where I only read books on philosophy, and I would argue Kant versus Aristotle to myself.  I couldn’t do that now on a whim.

But most of all, I tinkered.  With thoughts, things, sounds, and drawing.

But, being handy has also made me somewhat lazy. Outside of work, my cleverness always inspired a confidence that I could wing it. If I’m five miles into the woods and I don’t have a piece of gear I need, I’m never worried of not being able to figure things out (running across bears on one hike being one case where I was legitimately scared). In those cases, had I planned or paid more attention, I’d have been better off.

My dependability is not at question; often my commitment to make a rigid plan is.  True, I usually have a lot of options (I’ll have tickets to two shows, just in case), because I’ve been so satisfied with “whatever I do will be fun.”  Personal decision making (again, outside of my diametrically opposite work life) isn’t as decisive as it should be.  But I’m always there, to take a friend to the hospital, coach a team, or take on a new work assignment.  (The flaw is that I often will not do what I really want to do).

Hard Working and Successful

I am an engineer by education and profession, and accordingly conservative and risk averse when it comes to projects. There are safety factors and codes to govern the designing of real-world buildings and bridges that are used by (over my career) tens of millions of people. Over years of slow ladder climbing, I have risen to the level of project manager in charge of extremely large multi-disciplined projects that are both complex and, frankly, difficult.  My niche, now: take over problem projects.  I have published articles on my work.  I have won awards in my profession.  I am a mentor, and I am very, very good at what I do.

Success has not come easily, and I have had to demand my way into promotions over time. But is this really so different than many others?  Being a quick and intuitive problem solver has made me valuable. Being a disassembler of ideas has made me selective in approaches. Being articulate and charming has made me broadly admired.  But, taking risks in grabbing new opportunities, has made me successful.  I have won awards from the industry, as well as have been recognized as a leader in my firm.  I am personally thought of as a periodic manic alpha, a safe and thoughtful mentor, and an overworked drone.  Quotes in the last few days:

“We need 5 of you”

“You are the most quotable person I know.  You are the poet manager.”

“You saved the relationship with this client. They trust you.”

Work has also nearly drowned me in stress and commitments.  There are only so many hours in a day that can be wholly dedicated to work, and I have maximized them in order to be prepared for the worst.  This, while maximizing family commitments (my kids are my greatest joy), specifically coaching in my free time, to make up for all the work. I’m always tired, and until recently, exercising my brain and my body have been secondary. In the end, boring has brought stability and community.

Art

What to do with unrealized creativity and an urge to draw, paint, and build? And with creative kids at my heel? Easy! We often use family time for amateur art.  Mostly, when left to my own creative devices, I make bits of accent for my home, which is filled with painted stone, sketch books filled with intricate doodles and portraits, glue-gun creations like magic wands, glass boxes, paper mache, as well as eccentric glass and tile sculpture.   Our works look less than amateur, and we have received so many comments on how eccentric and interesting the pieces are. Boring has brought both me and my children art.

I’m not musical, but I have taught myself basic guitar and ukulele.  I’m not terrible, but it is a hobby less than a calling.  I have a piano, but can only tinkle they keys.  My kids, however, are musically gifted.

One form of art I love, but equally unpolished as the rest, is writing.  Readers here on my blogs find bits of poetry, essay, and reflection.  Mostly written on my phone, predictably random, and very self-referential.  Still, boring has found an outlet here.

My life is a kind of art as well.  You are as likely to see me as the one up and dancing when others are seated as you are to cross me on a mountain trail.  I’m the backpacker with the mohawk.

Financial Stability

See the paragraph on work above, and add that there has been little time to spend the fruits of the labor. Financial planning has been the one true planning effort in my life, always there and always a worry.  But who wants to hear about my mutual funds?  Know what’s even more boring than me?  Watching the stock market ticker roll across the TV screen.

My finances are stable and growing, and now I feel have the means to start exploring the more interesting corners of life. I’m handsome, but I wont be off buying expensive watches and shoes. James Bond is sexy and looks magnificent, but being Bond is more than the look.  For me, it is lectures, education, and traveling.  With my kids more independent than ever before, my options ahead are wonderfully earned decision points.

Social Ease

I have few airs to put on.  I am not an expert in much, but I am well versed in a lot.  And I ask questions.  At social events, I am usually making the rounds and meeting people.  I can be found either at the head of the table or engaging the less confident or more reserved.  I am somewhat witty and charming. For me, meeting people is easy if I just get out and do it.  Being curious allows one to ask a lot of questions. Boring has made me friends (although I secretly fear that I am also grating and invasive).

The Flip Side

What boring has cost me most is time and relationship.  I have been called a stuck creative, one who takes short-cuts instead of making long term plans and goals.  My insatiable curiosity brings me into contact with other art and/or technology loving people. Or loving techo-arty people.  People who are passionately searching both deep and wide, but to whom deep is most appealing.  People who astound and amaze me with their hunger and are consumed by slaking their thirst. They inspire me, not in competition, but in the richness within their journeys.  But they also tend to be people who are disciples to specific lines of thought. Experts invested in their expertise.

Going deep takes more time than going broad, or at least it appears.  Strip mining the world appears easier than a few mine shafts. Less time is devoted to a single path, and unless you really are a da Vinci or Ben Franklin, the lack of developing specific proficiency is seen as lazy or wasted effort.  

My always skeptical and seemingly uniformed, unsophisticated, time strapped, and random approach to life (all simplifications), ultimately bores and frustrates my connections to search for compelling, interesting, less chaotic people (yes, chaotic boredom is a thing). That, and a thousand other concrete reasons evident to people who have been reading this blog.  I do not always do well when a deep dive debate into very specific topics is called for, which is where my boring life is most exposed.  I read less deeply into subjects than I need and desperately want to.

See, being boring also makes me bored.  And being bored, stressed, and clinically depressed (which is often), is an invitation for darker demons to play havoc.  Boredom lacks a structure and a core, and is a place where chaos can form. Boredom is a result of inaction.

Being tired and seemingly uninterested makes one tiring and seem uninteresting. Who cares about one’s library and passionate knowledge of the Civil War or ability to make yakisoba, if keeping their company is like asking someone to put on wet clothes? I often do not get far enough to link my deepest wells with theirs, even after years and hundreds of intellectually probing conversations. Especially, if my boredom and depression indicate to others that I just don’t care, or my shallow skepticism challenges their investment instead of validating it.  Once one is known as boring, it cannot be shaken.  Your credentials, if they actually exist at all, do not matter. I’ve been told “It doesn’t count what you think of me.  It’s just like my mom.” I then pursue interests individually, already off their radars, which aren’t tuned to my passions anyway. Boring makes me invisible.

What boring crates is dimunition. This is not entirely unearned, but it is a constant simplification.  One’s ideas and explorations, especially in conversations filled with complexity, nuance, and evaluations that are not clear-cut, get flattened and summed up, often while they are still schematic.  Your self-supposed “depth”, unrecognized by your conversation parter, will remain depth unexplored. You notice that you are seen as shallow, incapable, or rigid.  It may seem as though what you are saying is being heard as the direct opposite, that you are westling in a web of words and not the ideas zipping through your brain. Boring gets prematurely interrupted by “No.  You’re wrong,” with a handful of reasons that you never advocated. 

I do need to note here that boring does not simply make one seem unfairly unwordly, inarticulate, and intellectually dulled; in many ways, it is actually fair and true, and the struggle to be heard is often an internal struggle to be clear. Being boring means that, no matter how you try to understand or adeptly disassemble an idea, you are not a voice to be heard. 

This applies especially to your own self evaluation.  To others, boring’s view is even inadquate and immaterial for itself. You receive, begrudgingly, advice or pity. Who wants to be dragged uniterested to another’s personal depths anyway? I can imagine no greater torture that to listen to a one-sided lecture on my favotite topic: how I see the world.  So I finally sit back, on the surface, building more to the overall notion of my shallowness. Selfishness has made me boring, and boring makes me flat.

Boring people, like me, get asked “What do you want?”  “Everything” is not an answer, nor should it be.  Being boring doesn’t mean directionless. Aimless adventure is a more hollow goal than niche perfectionism.

The Future of Boring

At this point in my life, for the first time in a long time, I have taken real control over aspects of my life I never thought possible.  Boring me, with all my poetic, artistic, musical, financial, resourceful, intellectual and professional achievement is now on a firmer base for exploring the richness in life, filling the gaps that fit my specific interests, focusing on the richest veins. Boring has opened doors, although it takes a lot to get up and walk through them sometimes, a lot to avoid distraction. Equally boring but curious companions are welcome on this expedition. Dancing, culture, art, fitness, and a hike through the woods are some of the stops, along with mowing the lawn and fixing the gutters, making magic wands, and walking the dog. Maybe some sleep and some boring dreams.

_____

Go to Explore the Tempest blog on WordPress to read more of my boring adventures.

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This entry was posted in Choices, connections, depression, growth, moving on, music, narrative, plans, promises, relationships, spirit, work and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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