When I was a child, I was terribly afraid I would be bored as an adult. This fear was very real and would literally keep me awake at night. I was absolutely petrified of the idea that I would spend hours and days and weeks and months and years of my life being bored. There was this image I had of adults, that they spent their lives in perpetual repetition, watching their bodies slowly lose vigor and begin to decompose in the pale reflection of the bathroom mirror, destined to repeat the events of the previous day endlessly until death, and Groundhog Day was a documentary.
I was a very silly child, I realize now. I'm not sure if I ever voiced this fear to my parents, but I wish they had told me how foolish I was. What fueled my fear was the dreary repetitiveness of elementary school and evenings at home with homework and television, and I thought that a day job and housework would amount to largely the same thing.
I'm so glad to have been so wrong.
When I started writing this post, I was thinking of the large number of projects I have going on, and how I lack the time to get any of them done. "Golly gee, I'm too busy to be bored!" was my thought. That's not entirely accurate! I was also a very busy child - school, homework, chores, games, books - I was never particularly idle. And yet, I distinctly remember being bored, and being mortally afraid of it. What changed?
The transition from childhood to adulthood, for me, was where I changed from solely accepting and observing my environment, to one where I act to change it. "Self-actualization" is one of those terms that come up in self-help books a lot, and it even makes a little bit of sense. Of course one is more satisfied if one is able to "realize" some aspect of one's "self". However, I think it doesn't make enough sense, so let's toss out that term and try another. How about, "Creativity"?
For me, at least, I'm most happy and at peace when I am fully engaged in some creative process. Engineering is bliss. Writing is heaven. Drawing and painting, ecstacy.
Think back to your elementary school. Well, maybe yours wasn't as stale as a Belgian school, but I'm sure it wasn't substantially different. Which activities do you remember? The pages and pages of multiplication tables? Probably not, until I mentioned it! Even the art projects are paint-by-numbers. What I remember most were the few instances where instruction was most unstructured. Dissecting owl vomit. Making dinosaur pictures out of autumn leaves. [As an aside, what's with gluing macaroni to stuff in American schools? I've seen it on TV and in movies and Jessica swears she's done it more than once. What's going on with that?]
I'm not arguing against the utility of a rigorous education. I appreciate every single page of multiplication tables, and wish I'd been forced to do a few more, in fact. The best time to acquire skills is in childhood, when the mind is as malleable as gold and as absorbent as polyacrylate. My point is this: only when a person has the opportunity to create or experience something absolutely new, out of their own free will and subject to their whims, will that person truly feel happy.
So where does that bring this post? Oh yes - I work as an engineer, which is some sort of useful creativity that pays the bills. I like to write (e.g. this blog), to draw, to paint (starting new watercolor class next week), to make stuff (netduino is a fun toy), to program (gourmand-grimoire and science-butler are ongoing projects), to play in a sandbox (such as Kerbal Space Program), to cook, to bake, and I'll be starting beer brewing and piano playing this year. It's true I don't have time to be bored, but that's not the important thing. What's important is that the things that you inevitably do fill your day with, are things you feel are worthwhile. I think that's what distinguishes a well-lived life from an ordinary one.