Chip MacGregor

July 2, 2013

The “b” word …



School is out, summertime is upon us all, and I’m sure I’m not the only person who has heard the “b” word from their kids more than once recently. I’ll confess, I used to hate it and get terribly frustrated when my son would utter it. Lately, though, I actually find myself smiling when he uses it. And I’ve been looking for opportunities to use the word myself. 

I think you should too.

In our house, the “b” word is spelled B-O-R-E-D.

I want to challenge you to actually try embracing it and exercising the meaning of the word. As in doing nothing on purpose, and sitting still through the restlessness until you feel like you did the last time you said “there’s nothing to do! I’m bored!” (And … I wonder, how long has THAT been?)

I also wonder if the reality that being, and staying busy – just for the sake of not being still – is potentially one of the most overrated endeavors humans undertake. To that point, I agree with several of the ideas in this article on the topic of being caught in “The Busy Trap.”

I’ll admit, not producing is one of the hardest things for me to do, er, not do. Or not, not do.  Ack. You know what I mean.

Sometimes, after dinner, when my son says, “Mom, just sit down with us,” or my husband suggests we go for a bike ride or walk the dog, I usually have a long list of reasons why I shouldn’t. Emails I should write or answer. Calls I should schedule. Manuscripts I should look at. I’m a hard worker. I naturally gravitate to being productive. It’s just who I am.

Or is it just what I do?

Recently, I’ve begun to realize that pursuing a state of boredom/idleness/stillness is the best antidote to the “crazy busy, purpose-driven over-achieving” state of mind I live with 24/7.

For writers, I think the pursuit of boredom can actually be more than an antidote to busy-ness. I think it can be the stimulus to creativity and to better, deeper work. For when you’re NOT trying so hard, that’s when creativity can run free. When God can seriously intervene in your work. When the story, or point, or idea you’re trying to express can receive permission to just be itself.

I’m not suggesting you abdicate your responsibilities permanently, or become a full-time slacker who sits around with a television remote in one hand and lukewarm drink in the other. And I’m certainly not suggesting missing deadlines, walking away from pursuing your publishing dreams, or just deciding to not show up for your editing job tomorrow.  But, if only for a day, sometime this summer (go ahead, if you must — put it on your schedule) I want you to try doing nothing. On purpose.

If all I ever do is go, go, go; work, work, work, I lose focus. And perspective. And I forget why I’m doing so much. Getting caught up in it without stopping to ask questions starts to feel normal. But I don’t think it is, really.

Making peace with the evidence that idleness delivers to my doorstep — that there’s more to life than endless activity and pursuit of accomplishment – can feel intimidating at first. But it’s worth the struggle. Perhaps the point of work is not just so that we can enjoy and share its fruits, but so that we can, on occasion, apprehend a vision of the void of it.

Yesterday we returned from a few days of floating around the Three Rivers area of Oregon on a houseboat with our best friends. It actually took me two of our four days to get through the restlessness and to the state of “boredom” I’m talking about. But it was worth it. When I got there, I had an epiphany. I understood that without stopping occasionally, I have no way to gain appreciation for the purpose – and reward – my work brings me.

With not much more to do than watch the kids swim, add to the long list of wildlife surrounding us, and wonder at the glory of a dark night sky, I had room to rewire my inner hamster wheel a bit.

Instead of considering how behind I was getting by taking a few hard earned days off; I reminded myself that thanks to technology, I’m not alone. Most everyone I know could now work 24/7 and never be caught up. And I decided that instead of continually stretching for the finish line of “getting caught up” I would be okay with doing my absolute best at work every day, remembering I can’t do it all, and forgiving myself when I can’t keep up. And I reminded myself that my clients are humans – and that they know I’m human, too. Doesn’t mean I won’t work as hard as ever; just that I won’t beat myself up when I’m not working.

I couldn’t have come to that place of peace if I hadn’t been still long enough to let it settle on me. If I hadn’t used – and pursued the “b” word. On purpose.

Go ahead. Try it. I dare you.



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  • Peter DeHaan says:

    I learned to never say the “b” word to my mom, because it always resulted in a new job for me to do.

  • Jaime Wright says:

    My 3 year old and I sat outside in lawn chairs last night and ate Ritz cheese cracker sandwiches and chatted about her imaginary friends and their adventures. It took everything in me to just sit down and be still with her. In the end, I was “bored” out of my mind in love with that kid and her stories. Great advice!!

  • Elizabeth Goddard says:

    That’s exactly where I am too! I purposefully planned to take July off to enjoy my kids and do nothing. But I admit that I’m having a hard time convincing my brain to stop thinking and working so hard! LOL

  • :Donna Marie says:

    Wow, Sandra, this very subject has come up several times lately for me, including two blog posts by a friend/author, Kami Kinard:

    I’m right with you as far as wanting to be productive and getting restless when I’m not doing so. It’s pretty rare for me to allow myself a “day off” and typically, it’s forced upon me in the form of family gatherings or some special occasion, which I typically also view as an “interruption” in my effort to “get things done.” For me it’s always that sense of urgency and there not being enough hours in a day 🙁

    I’ll allow myself spurts of relaxation or short excursions, like to the local zoo for an hour, but it’s not often. The only difference is that I don’t think I would ever classify it as “boredom.” I get the comparison, but for me, I don’t know the meaning of boredom, I think because most things interest me. I don’t think you necessarily mean “boredom” either, but simply (as you said) the act of re-focusing on something that’s not work-related or accomplishing a specific task in the effort of catching up (no, I don’t think we ever can).

    I recently did catch up on a lot of heavy house-cleaning and re-organizing in the effort to finally get it off my back, weighing me down, and also to help simplify life. There was some purging involved, and that helped a lot, too, but after reading your post here, it’s helping me re-think purging even more things that will take too long to catch up on and perhaps I should just let go.

    Thank you for the link to that article which I plan to read now. I’m hoping it, too, will help reinforce this “purging path” I’m on 🙂 Thanks!

    • :Donna Marie says:

      I just wanted to add, too, that my son and daughter-in-law are on their 2-week honeymoon and are purposely leaving their phones in the room so they stay unplugged, for the most part 🙂 I was VERY happy to hear this. They let us know they arrived safely and the place they’re at is nice…and that they ended up with a Ford Mustang as their rental car (that cracked me up ’cause he was so excited about that), but other than that, I don’t expect them to be in touch much 🙂

  • SandraBishop says:

    I’ve obviously hit a nerve here, haven’t I? I’m encouraged to know I’m not the only one who struggles to be still. It’s worth the effort, though. Truly.

  • JeanneTakenaka says:

    I loved this, Sandra. There are times I struggle with the question, Am I keeping busy or being kept by busy? With young children at home, I have plenty to fill my days. I can tell when I’ve been pushing too hard because I can’t focus on the things I want to do or need to do.

    When I give myself some time to just rest, watch a movie, or spend time playing with my boys, I come back to my “work” or my story feeling refreshed. And, it’s better for my relationships with my family when I spend focused time with them. The older I grow, the more I realize the importance of stillness. Thanks for affirming that.

  • Lindsay Harrel says:

    I absolutely love this. It’s true–in our society, to go, go, go is the norm. How sad is it that after a full day of working at my day job, I feel lazy if I can’t work on my fiction writing for three hours every night? Recently, I felt the call to slow down and enjoy life more, and like you said, I was even more productive. In addition, my husband and I have been planning a “staycation” this weekend (have had it on the calendar for a few months), and plan to not plan anything. 🙂

  • Amy Leigh Simpson says:

    I absolutely agree! Great post!! I often dream of a day when someone takes my tots for a full day when I have nothing to do. It’s been so long since I didn’t have to worry about feeding, clothing, diapering, entertaining and anticipating daily disasters I almost can’t even imagine what that would feel like. Maybe I should put it on my birthday wish list this month! Thanks for this.

  • Julie Surface Johnson says:

    “If all I ever do is go, go, go; work, work, work, I lose focus. And perspective. And I forget why I’m doing so much.” Bravo, Sandra.

  • Meghan Carver says:

    Wonderful thoughts, Sandra, and I love, or maybe don’t love, the image of an inner hamster cage. You know what I mean. That stillness is definitely something to seek and cherish. You’ve given me new ammo when my children next say they’re bored.

  • Robin Patchen says:

    I find that if I don’t give myself some quiet time to think, I can’t come up with the plot ideas for my novels. It’s amazing how quickly a problem will resolve itself if I just lie down for ten minutes. But staring at the screen, washing dishes, and cleaning floors don’t accomplish the same thing. It’s hard to be still, though, with so much to do.

  • Pam Hillman says:

    Sandra, have you been inside my hamster cage with me???? The fact that we’re tethered to our work via cell phones, laptops, ipads, etc. just adds to the fact that we feel that we really CAN’T become unplugged.

    I’ve spent many vacations the last few years working every time I could get a wifi signal. 🙁 It makes my heart pound to think of going on a vacation for 4-5 days and leaving my laptop at home, but it’s an exciting, what-if pounding that makes me want to try it! Maybe even leave the iphone at home. Oh…the thought!

    This reminds me of RV with Robin Williams as Bob, the dad. Bob tells the family they’re all going to be unplugged, but sneaks his laptop on the trip. Hilarious, but not so far from reality.

  • Absolutely right!!! Years ago, my daughter would tell me she was bored. I’d always tell her it was an opportunity to be creative. She took me seriously. Over the years she’s gone through creative phases. She made 3D art or play objects (like paper cell phones and laptops–her friends even asked her to make these items for them), origami, and writing. By nine-years old she was writing chapter books. She was the one who inspired ME to write a novel. Love that little girl!!! She is now twelve and has put the writing aside to learn how to draw from youtube tutorials. Her work is amazing! She has used the “bored” word once or twice this year, but usually answers the question of what to do before I even open my mouth. I love to watch her creative mind in action, and I think it all came from the courage to be bored on occasion.

  • Jennifer Labadie Fromke says:

    I’ve been lamenting a summer filled with fun and family and not filled with work on my manuscript. (how pathetic is that?) Then I find myself in the middle of a Bible Study by Margaret Feinberg: Wonderstruck. The wonder of rest. The wonder of God’s creation, etc . . . and your post folds beautifully into that message. Thanks for saying what I needed to hear – again.

  • Ron Estrada says:

    I do try. I get home from the day job every night and sit down to work on white papers and blogs for two clients that could keep me busy full time. Then I work on my novel. You’re right, technology allows me the opportunity to gather more clients and keep busy around the clock. Fortunately, we own a camper, and when we go camping I have no trouble shifting into “awning time.” When you sit under a camper awning, it’s nearly impossible to do something productive. Something in the design. I also plant a large garden. I spend at least half an hour each day mesmerized by the growth rate of zucchini. It’s not much, but it helps. Of course, the weeds beckon for my attention while I’m out there…

  • I don’t know if I can do this or not. I’m an expert at beating myself up when I’m not being productive 🙂

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