Try Not to Die of Boredom (At Least Not While Reading This Post)

We know that our posts here at the Dx provide a reliable few minutes of stimulation each day. But what if the rest of your time is nowhere near as exciting?

Boredom is a serious affliction, as a mostly lighthearted story in this week’s Wall Street Journal reported—so serious that scientists are examining it closely. “One 2010 study found that the boredom-prone are more than twice as likely to die of heart disease than their more-engaged brethren,” the Journal noted, and boredom has been linked to “depression, overeating, substance abuse, gambling and even mortality.”

We’ve written about boredom before (such as here and here) because Peter Drucker considered ennui a threat to both personal and institutional health. He even wrote of “deadly boredom” on the assembly line.

People who rise to a certain level of an organization and then fail to rise further often retire on the job, Drucker observed, or begin suffer what they think is “burnout.” This applied no less to explicitly knowledge-based workplaces such as universities, where professors get locked into a narrow specialty.

Illustration credit: Dimodee
Illustration credit: Dimodee

“The young scholar who starts teaching the French Revolution loves his subject,” Drucker wrote in Managing in Turbulent Times. “Fifteen years later, though still only in his early 40s, he is bored with it. . . . His lectures are repetitious; even his jokes are stale.”

Drucker saw three primary solutions to such problems. The first was to get yourself transferred at least laterally—what Drucker called “repotting.” The second was to develop what Drucker called a “parallel career.” That might mean volunteering at a nonprofit for, say, 10 hours a week or launching a side venture. The third was to pull up stakes and start anew in a different line of work.

In The Age of Discontinuity, Drucker gave the knowledge worker a pep talk about such things. “He will have to learn that there is no disgrace in starting over again at age 45,” Drucker wrote. “He will have to learn that it is relatively easy to do. And he will have to learn that a second career at this age is a great deal more satisfying—and fun—than the bottle, a torrid affair with a chit of a girl, the psychoanalyst’s couch or any of the other customary attempts to mask one’s frustration and boredom with work that, only a few short years ago, had been exciting, challenging and satisfying.”

How do you fight off the threat of boredom?