The “Pepper...And Salt” cartoon in the Wall Street Journal (6/12/20) nailed it. A couple is seated at a table over glasses of wine. Pensively the woman says to her male companion, “It’s hard to believe the Good Old Days were just a few short months ago.”
In the same WSJ edition, a review by Daniel Akst of a new book, “Out of My Skull,” by James Danckert and John D. Eastwood, examined “boredom.” During the Covid-19 imprisonment some complained, “I’m bored with this!” With routines disrupted, for many a malaise of some sort is common. Even “essential workers” can suffer a different kind of boredom, tired of too much stress, excessive demands on time and energy, constant pressure. For the rest of us, aren’t you bored with being deemed “non-essential?”
Not feeling that you have an important role in the scheme of things is a corrosive kind of boredom. Everyone has to feel useful. Some people worry about loss of purpose in retirement, especially if much of one’s identity is tied to what one does for a living. Lack of motivation is a manifestation of boredom.
Another sort of boredom, say the authors of “Out of My Skull,” “is the version that most of us get paid for,” for example, workers of any kind beset with “mind-numbing” and repetitive tasks. Looking at the sources of boredom, the authors cite four key factors that spur feelings of tedium: “monotony, lack of purpose, constraint, and poor fit between our skills and the challenge of the moment.” Focus on that last point: a misalignment between our innate talents, knowledge, and skills, and the challenge at hand, the role we are asked or forced to play.
Gallup annually surveys the workplace to gauge the level of “engaged” workers in America, those “highly involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” With surging employment in 2019, there was cheerful news. Engagement reached a new high of 35%, the highest level since Gallup began tracking the metric in 2000. The flip side, however, was 65% of employees not really engaged, many of whom show up and go through the motions, including the TGIF crowd, and those actively disengaged and looking to leave.
With virus-induced unemployment way up, those with a job, even those not engaged or truly happy, will “hang in” due to lack of options. But for the employed and those seeking employment, Danckert and Eastwood have solid advice. “Boredom is neither good nor bad,” it’s how you respond to it that counts.
Donald O. Clifton (1924-2003) was a professor, psychologist and researcher who studied success versus the reasons for failure by individuals and companies. Clifton was the guiding force behind Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinder, used by firms to match innate worker strengths with the role to be played in actualizing a defined vision and mission. Many colleges use Gallup tools to match a student’s talent themes with courses and majors.
Clifton noted that “strength” emerges over time by identifying a person’s top 5 to 10 inherent talent themes, of which there are 34 in all, and developing those raw talents by adding skill and knowledge. It’s a lifetime pursuit of mental, emotional and internal motivational strength, just as physical fitness is born of dedication and repetitive development.
The authors take a tip out of the StrengthsFinder playbook, recommending “mindfulness” and the pursuit of “flow,” becoming “so absorbed in a task that we lose track of time and forget ourselves.” We enjoy what we’re doing; we can’t wait to get back to it. Gallup coaches tell parents to watch for that in children as a clue to innate talents.
Buy the book, “StrengthsFinder 2.0” by Tom Rath. For the price of the book you can indentify and learn about your top 5 talent themes via an on-line assessment tool. As we move to rebuild our economy, companies large and small are recalibrating, redefining mission and vision, building teams and enhancing engagement. It’s more than a fad. It’s a movement. Take time to understand your God-given talents and strengths, and how they can be discerned, developed and maximized to fulfill your mission, vision and purpose relative to self, family, community, work and faith.
In terms of eternity, your time on earth is but a blip. Make the most of it.