“Boredom is just the reverse side of fascination.”
— Arthur Schopenhauer
Congratulations, graduating classes of 2022!
Being young, with a freshly minted degree, you probably feel invincible, like you can do anything. There’s a lightness and exuberance in your step, and you are full of confidence, as if you were expert in every field. That beautiful manic energy coursing through you right now is intoxicating, and if you’re in this state of mind, live it up. Enjoy yourself and commemorate the moment, because you’ve earned it.
Tomorrow, though, or a few tomorrows from now, after the post-celebration headache wears off, you’ll probably look out your window, or your parents’ window, and wonder, “what now?”
This is called an inflection point. Now that you’re done with school, you may wonder, what do I do now? Do I enjoy a summer off, backpacking through Peru or lost in video games?? Do I try to get a job as soon as I can find one? And what kind of job? What will it be like to follow my own path, and make my own decisions? What if the world finds out I have no idea what I’m doing? What if I fail?
It will probably give you little comfort to know that we’ve all been there, though that is the truth. But what good is it to tell you we’ve all had that moment of fear? You’re you. You’ve got your own unique anxieties, and only you can figure them out.
The good news is that you’ve been building the skills you need for the next phase of your life just by accomplishing the previous phases. High school taught you how to work. College taught you how to think. And in the words of David Foster Wallace at his 2005 commencement speech to Kenyon College:
“[Your education] isn’t really about your capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about.”
Now is when you get to decide what to think about, where to dedicate your skills. My only advice to you is not to make this decision from a place of worry. Seek equanimity before you jump. That wide and golden horizon of the future might seem fraught with uncertainty, but any decision made from fear isn’t a decision; it’s a reaction.
For now, just let yourself be bored.
“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. If it is worth having, it is worth waiting for. If it is worth attaining, it is worth fighting for. If it is worth experiencing, it is worth putting time aside for.”
— Oscar Wilde
This is probably the most counterintuitive thing to ask in today’s oversaturated entertainment landscape. We’ve been trained since babyhood to entertain ourselves: keep reading, keep watching and listening to things, and always be hustling toward something. This incessant stimulation hides the insight and the catharsis that boredom can bring.
When he was driving his family out of Colombia for a vacation, Gabriel Garcia Marquez was staring at the road, most likely finding some peace in his own mind away from the noise of his children in his backseat, when he came up with the idea for his Nobel-Prize-winning novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Isaac Newton is most famous for his theory of gravity, which changed our conception of the physical world forever. What’s almost as famous is the story about what he was doing when this idea popped into his mind. He was reportedly resting beneath an apple tree, whiling away the hours, when an apple fell on his head and inspired his genius.
Some called Steve Jobs lackadaisical and a languisher when he dropped out of college to pursue other interests. But because he was otherwise unoccupied, when Steve Wozniak showed him the hardware that would become the first Apple computer, Jobs put his energy and experience toward the marketing, design, and business planning that would change computing and the world itself forever.
History is full of the society-changing accomplishments created by patient agents of change who bided their time for the right opportunity. At the right time, they used their experience, accumulated skills, and natural talents to seize the moment and shift the course of society.
So let yourself be bored for now. Keep staring out the window and let your mind wander. Go for a drive. Go for a long walk. Or do whatever your heart and your mind want to do today. Just get your soul to that peaceful place. You’ll find there not only what you want to do for a living, but what you want to do with your life.
We need people of compassion, passion, and dedicated intelligence to meet the challenges our world faces, and you can only get those when you’ve had time to consider what it is you truly want to do.
I won’t lie to you about the problems the world faces, the problems that you face. They are big. Huge. Climate collapse, systemic inequality, the misogynistic attack on reproductive rights, not to mention horrific levels of gun violence and geopolitical unrest. These are the challenges that will define your generation. But in great challenges, there are also great opportunities. For transformation, for heroism, for love.
You’re allowed to be sad about the world, that means you care. So, get sad. Get mad! But don’t let it depress you into idleness and inaction. Get active, and work to change what you don’t like about the world. There are countless ways to do that. Big and small, you can make a difference.
Find your passion
“To succeed, you have to believe in something with such passion that it becomes reality.”
— Anita Roddick
Letting yourself get bored can give you invaluable peace and also openness to what might evolve. Keep your eyes open for opportunities you might love and say “yes” to even the most aimless ideas, even if you have no idea what may come of it. You’ll notice they’re all around you in your community.
Use your down time to volunteer. Helping others is not only good for your health, but it can also introduce you to new things and new interests. Volunteering at a fundraiser might kindle an interest in nonprofit work. Cleaning up a river might spark a passion for environmental work, in which there are many opportunities.
Another great benefit of boredom is the surprising things you might invent to occupy yourself. Many have discovered a love of writing or painting just by passing time, and the world needs artists. Important issues are addressed via art. Climate change and social injustice can gain a stage through popular entertainment like a Marvel superhero. Art can be therapeutic, as is the case for men at risk for suicide who found solace through standup comedy. If you’re not an artist, you can still feel the power of something beautiful. Or something that shocks you into a new perspective.
Find a Mentor
“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”
— Alexander the Great
The power of art is connection, and this is perhaps it’s most important offering. While we might not be able to change each other’s minds, we can always connect on an emotional level. Deep beneath the differences and disagreements, lays the understanding that we are all people deserving of the same respect. We need to build more connections in a world that has been built to keep us separate. You never know where you’ll find friends or even a mentor.
DaVinci didn’t learn to paint on his own. Even brilliant minds need teachers and guides who have skills and experience to impart. In your glorious boredom, take the time to get to know someone new and see how they’re innovating. Introduce yourself to climate scientists tackling food scarcity or fighting for their culture like the Sioux chef putting indigenous flavors on a major restaurant’s menu. Join a neighbor to watch the eclipse and discover a love of the stars that will one day lead you to discover exoplanets. Everyone needs role models.
Everyone needs someone to fight for too, whether that be a family member or a stranger in need. After spending time in Lesotho, OnePower CEO Matt Orosz decided to go to MIT to pursue engineering. He wanted to bring electricity to rural parts of the country that had captured his heart. He got his PHD, returned to Lesotho, and is now developing minigrids that power hospitals and schools. The key to a meaningful life, is to find someone, some place, or something that gives you purpose.
And whether that purpose is helping others or the planet, the next step is to get up and get at it.
Make a difference
“Make a difference about something other than yourselves.”
— Toni Morrison
Every innovator and revolutionary had to start somewhere. If there’s something you know needs to change, even a small start will make a difference. Getting your community involved can have a huge impact. Students at Emory Medical School banded together and convinced their administration to make climate change part of the official curriculum. Young scuba divers and outdoor enthusiasts began Clean Up the Lake, a nonprofit dedicated to clearing trash from Lake Tahoe, and have so far removed 25,000 pounds.
The opportunities are endless for those with the will to enact change, especially when it comes to the climate. Interest in climate studies and green jobs is increasing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job opportunities for environmental scientists and “related specialists” will grow by eight percent over the next decade.
As a society with a future, we need engaged and relentless young activists to keep up the fight for green policy. But we also need changemakers of all types to salve the troubles of the world. You could join the fight to end homelessness and reduce recidivism. You could join the fight for a woman’s right over her own body and join organizations that facilitate abortion safe havens. You could even be a lawyer with a focus on union assistance. And while doing any of these you can help the planet.
The greatest hero of any democracy is a voter. Don’t give up on politics, even when it’s divisive and heartbreaking. Let your heart break and get better so you can get back up and change the world. Even if you can’t buy solar panels, support businesses that do, and throw your voice behind solar energy. Support net zero education and inform younger minds about how to help their planet. Model environmentally responsible behavior, and never ever forget to vote. And don’t let others forget either.
And with your precious moments of boredom, I’m sure you can come up with countless other ways to affect the change you want to see in the world.
For now, sit back, enjoy your moment of doing nothing, and ponder the possibilities you offer the world and what the world can offer you.
Again congratulations, classes of 2022!
“Nothing happens to any man that he is not formed by nature to bear.”
— Marcus Aurelius