Embracing Boredom

The last time I had a block of time with nothing—literally nothing—to do, I was. . . . Hmmm. I guess I need to think about that. Certainly not in the last five years when I worked in a job that was actually three jobs, not one, and I was so overly stressed that my resting heart rate increased. And not the three years prior to that when I desperately looked for a job after losing mine at the beginning of The Great Recession. And I was plenty busy the previous ten years as I survived the ugly end of my marriage, switched jobs four times, single-parented four adolescent girls, authored three books, moved to a new house, and fell in love and married for a second time. Prior to that I was in an abusive marriage for twenty years but was totally clueless and spent every day trying to fix everything. Before that I was a college student and held part-time jobs. I worked all through high school too. And struggled through my own adolescence while each of my parents was diagnosed with cancer and died.

Now that I’ve thought about it, I realize the last time I had a block of time with nothing to do it was 1972 and I was eleven years old, sitting on the couch, staring outside on a rainy summer day. I remember my mom suggesting several things I could do and none of them appealed to me. She didn’t appreciate my attitude, so I didn’t stay idle for long.

I recently switched jobs and I find myself with nothing to do for long stretches of time during my workdays; sometimes the entire workday. It is a very odd sensation to have nothing to do. Everyone knows and accepts that I have no work. We all understand that this is a new position and it’s going to take some time to get my tasks placed in the workflows and for word of my availability (and skills) to spread.

Even though it is widely accepted that I have no work, I’m not allowed to read a book or surf the Internet or learn to knit. I sit. At a desk. Quietly. For eight hours.

I speed-walk at lunch to burn up energy. Other than that, I’m pretty much left alone with my thoughts and nothing to do. Most days I embrace the boredom and see it as a long-term healing. Seriously! If you hadn’t been bored in 44 years, wouldn’t you welcome a little downtime??

Over the holidays I mentioned this unexpected aspect of my new job to several friends and relatives. Each person responded in one of two ways: The person thought I was exaggerating my situation, or the person strongly encouraged me to find a different job fast before I’m let go. Even when I assured the person that it makes sense to be in this predicament right now since my role is like a “start up,” no one was willing to believe that I’ll be okay. And not a single person expressed a desire to be bored.

I have to admit, I kind of like it. Most of my life I’ve fought off traits of perfectionism and overachievement. I’ve been praised throughout my career for creating efficiencies and streamlining processes. I’ve been known to make the most of every moment, multitasking my way through each day. Well, I’m making the most of these moments now. I’m learning to think differently, to exist outside my normal box. My resting heart rate has returned to a healthier level. My blood pressure is back down to its normal spot—which causes the nurse to take it twice because it’s so low and she’s sure she’s made a mistake. For the first time in years I’m sleeping eight hours every single night, one after another! I find myself smiling at strangers. I thank the bus driver when I get on and off the bus. I count my blessings every day, more than once. And I’m not so quick to react to the drama of my four—no, make that our six—daughters.

Maybe I’m all wrong and a pink slip is in my future. I really don’t think so. For now, I’m going to bask in the boredom as if laying on a beach, soaking up vitamin D. Who knows? Maybe one of these days I’ll decide to stop wearing my watch.