In the afternoon they came unto a land,
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
– from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s
“I’m bored.” I’ve heard this from the kids – bored with summer vacation or bored with the tedium of school lessons or bored with sports that require repetitive practice. Boredom in organizations can show up the second day on a job or in the sixth month of a project or after years in a career. Boredom in organizations is held responsible for all kinds of things. It gets blamed for the lack of productivity and innovation, for the lack of commitment and curiosity.
My response to the kids, “It’s good for you to be bored.” I say this instead of suggesting something for them to do. If we seek to fill the boredom with something, with activity, those things become a flight from boredom rather than valuable in their own right. Bertrand Russell said that “a generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men.” There is value in boredom.
Joseph Brodsky offers a suggestion: “When boredom strikes, throw yourself into it. Let it squeeze you, submerge you, right to the bottom.” When boredom strikes, I stop. I step out of the context I’m in. I go for a walk, get a drink of water, gaze out of the window. I do my best not to run to a different activity. After all, boredom is an emotion, an experience. It will come and go. What will I do with it?
Is boredom valuable?