Books and Boredom

Disclaimer: This post is from the archives, and may not represent the current views of the author. It also may not be at all interesting to read. Continue at your own peril!

Books are amazing things. There are literally tons of books out there. A quick Google search found one estimate at about 65 million titles, and about 2.75 billion copies (although that’s obviously just an estimate). And what of these books? Some are good. Some are bad. Some are just plain terrible, and still others are completely ridiculous. But the fact remains that there are millions of books out there that you will never read in your lifetime. A mountains-worth of information lost.

But enough with the grand philosophizing. I am currently reading a book entitled “The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World.” It’s written by a man named A.J. Jacobs, and so far it is deliciously good. This guy essentially decides that he is not smart enough, and so he sets out on a quest to read through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. The whole thing. In the book, he points out interesting facts and random information, as well as some of his personal stories that occur during the reading of this ginormous encyclopedia. He registered for Mensa. He had an interview with Alex Trebek. He annoyed his wife by bringing up random, quirky facts during dinner parties. It’s truly a wonderful book to read, and his writing style is great.

I knew as soon as I saw the title on Amazon that I had to buy it. It was just too perfect for me. I am an insatiable gatherer of knowledge. I too enjoy spouting off random facts that I happen to remember for no particular reason other than that they are completely irrelevant to life in general. And I’m picking up all sorts of neat facts from reading the book (it’s like reading a condensed and much more interesting version of the encyclopedia). For example, René Descartes had a fetish for cross-eyed women. Betcha didn’t know that about the father of modern philosophy. He also apparently liked to sleep in until 11 AM, a fact which I shall certainly use the next time anyone complains about me sleeping in. It’s amazing the vast amount of knowledge that is acquirable in this world. And somehow I feel that it would take me five hundred lifetimes to learn it all. (If only I believed in reincarnation. Darn.)

But that’s really not the reason I decided to write this. I mean, it’s certainly a good book – I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for an interesting and amusing read. But what actually hit me the most was not the stuff about knowledge that I just spouted off. What I like about this guy is that he set out on a quest to read the encyclopedia. (Of course, I’m not finished reading it yet to find out whether he actually succeeded.) And though it may be trivial and pointless and meaningless to anyone else, he stays true to his cause and goes ahead with it. And there are times when I wish I had a quest of my own to go on. Strange that I find a role model in a guy who is stupid enough to read the encyclopedia…

I’ve thought about this often. I want – or need, even – to find some “quest” of my own to follow. Why? Because I hate feeling meaningless. I don’t simply want to wander around on this earth without purpose or direction. I want my life to have meaning. And of course, every one of my fellow Christians will immediately retort back with the clichéd, “But God gives you purpose. You don’t have to live a meaningless life because the Bible gives your life meaning.” I know that. I’ve had that drilled into my head. But other than giving me a reason to love thy neighbour and give to the needy, it doesn’t really offer much substance. I don’t necessarily need purpose. What I need are goals.

I actually had an interview today for a co-op job, and the interviewer asked me about a goal of mine that I had achieved. I had actually been tipped off about this question from a friend of mine who had applied for the same job and had her interview before me, so I had some time to think about the question. And I concluded for about the sixteenth time in my life that I hate goal-setting. I can’t stand it. I’ve had to do it all through school, and the teacher would spout off that our goals needed to be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based. (See? I still remember the stupid acronym.) So we would all have to get out a clean sheet of paper and come up with three goals that we wanted to achieve in the next, say, three years. I would come up with some ridiculously shallow – yet achievable – goals that fulfilled these requirements, then dutifully hand it in and forget all about it. I came up with goals like, “I want to get a 90 in Geography class.” I mean, that’s a decent goal, but does it really mean anything? It’s not a driving purpose that provides you with a sense of direction. Not unless you really suck at geography and really need to pass it in order to land that job as a cartographer that you’ve always dreamt of. So when the teacher would hand back our goals, I would dutifully then put it back in my binder and never look at it again. Goals shmoals. Who needs them?

Unfortunately, sometimes the goals that are the most important to have are definitely not SMART ones. So what if they aren’t realistic? And what if I have no time-frame in which I want to achieve them? Maybe it’s just something that I want to do “in my lifetime” – which, of course, is technically a time-frame, but a pretty useless one. You will never achieve any goals which have a time-frame longer than that one. No, sometimes the goals we need are fantastically absurd. Like, say, reading through the encyclopedia. Who in their right mind does that? Or who in their right mind actually wants to climb Mount Everest and have icicle boogers hanging from their nose when they reach the top? I would say, though, that those who do these crazy things are the ones in their right minds. Let me tell you why.

I had an epiphany during my time at Health Canada. I found out that an office job can be really boring. I hated the 9 to 5 routine that I found myself in. I hated going to work, doing work, then coming home and feeling so drained that I just wanted to go to bed. And I suppose part of that was due to the fact that I didn’t really have a hobby to occupy my waking moments outside the office. Television is a good cure for that, but unfortunately, I don’t watch much of that. But I found out just how much I hate routine. Despite the fact that I thrive on routine. Routine gives me comfort. But the 9 to 5 routine without any purpose or driving force behind it just becomes tedium. Boring, mindless, repetitious tedium that can drive a man to insanity. Or if not insanity, then television. Same difference. Mankind was made for so much more than boring routine.

And that is why I need a quest. I don’t just need a hobby. Hobbies are good for filling up time and keeping your brain functions above a vegetative state. That’s why I have tried to do a lot of reading. Reading has become a hobby for me, along with watching movies and playing guitar. But hobbies only get you so far. They have no driving force behind them other than, “Hey, I’m bored. Maybe I’ll go read a book.” Not very passionate. But a quest is a goal. It gives the rest of life meaning – real, practical meaning. While on a quest, all of life’s other trivialities seem to fade into the background. Life getting you down? Don’t worry, you’re getting closer to completing your quest. Setbacks and roadblocks? No problemo. I’m on a quest. Just one more challenge to be overcome. The excitement of it all intrigues me, and I want it for myself.

Unfortunately, all the good quests seem to have been taken. The earth has been quite thoroughly explored, charted out, and discovered. A lot of quests are pretty restrictive, in that it requires something like a Ph.D. to get anywhere – your quest to revolutionize the field of microbiology is bound to fail if you flunked out of biology in high school. Or else they’re fairly expensive – like trying to break a world record for the longest free-fall (which I heard about today). And the problem is that I can never think of something ridiculously unique – like trying to read through an encyclopedia – that nobody’s ever done before. Or at least, that few people have done before. Yes sir, it seems like all the good quests have been taken. No more dragons to slay or fair maidens to rescue. And so, here I sit, knee-deep in tedium. Interviews, class lectures, and interactions with others create variety, but in the end, they’re still all interviews, lectures, and interactions.

So where do I go from here? I’m not really sure. I’ve thought long and hard (sometimes during my days with nothing to do at Health Canada, no less) about possibilities, but so far, not much has come up. I had a brilliant idea with a plan to raise money for charity that ended up not working out so well. (I found out after excitedly starting a website littered with ads that it was going to violate the terms of service of most of the websites I planned to partner with. Fortunately, I managed to salvage it while only losing about $10 for a non-refundable cost of web hosting.) Is my life doomed to be reduced to mindless tedium? I sure hope not. I just wish I could find a modern-day quest, however unreasonable and wildly ridiculous it may seem. Heck, maybe if I ever find one, I could at least write a book about it and get some money out of it. But of course, finding the quest is the first obstacle.

Anyway, after this long, ridiculous, and possibly juvenile post about the cynicism of modern life that I have built up, I suppose I will just ask for suggestions. I’m working on a fairly tight budget here, so I can’t really aim for the goal of buying seventeen of the most expensive houses in the world. But there must be some way to beat the blahs. Even if it means pogo-sticking around the world…

5 responses to “Books and Boredom”

Nightfox

Sounds like me. I actually found your site because I googled “I need a quest” and then waded through all the RPG stuff to get to it, as pathetic as that sounds.

I’ve had purpose a couple times before – with really cool engineering projects I’ve worked on – but those came to an end and now I’ve got naught again. Post if you find something, hear?

Jeff

Hey, thanks for stopping by. Glad to know I’m not the only quest-less person out there 🙂 If I come up with a good one, I’ll be sure to let you know…

nightfox

One of my long-term, pie-in-the-sky type goals is to reduce the power and prestige of politics in our lives. I think much could be accomplished if we stopped looking to our elected officials to accomplish it for us. I hesitate to call this a quest, though, for I have little idea how to go about it.

Jeff

Hmm. Well, that sounds like a decent goal. I could bring up the benefits of government – like how it can encourage cooperation in a group, rather than having to fight for our own individual rights – but certainly an over-reliance on government can be an unhealthy way to live. I think what you’re talking about, though, is becoming an increasing trend. Multinational corporations, activist groups, and non-profit organizations are all beginning to “take charge” and go ahead with stuff instead of waiting around for the bureaucrats to catch up. Certainly much more is accomplished when we do things ourselves – however, at the same time, sometimes businesses and individuals end up stepping on others’ toes in order to accomplish their goals. Government can act to reduce that and make sure that everyone’s “playing fairly.” But at any rate, enough philosophizing – perhaps a good way to start on your ambition would be to start an organization for something you are passionate about? Just a thought 🙂

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