Few days ago RIP Sr came to visit me in Switzerland for the weekend. It has been a nice August weekend, with very good weather (28 Celsius) and plenty of activities for him: swimming, e-biking, walking, barbecuing with a dozen of friends… he’s no more used to live at this rhythm, he spends days mostly at home, watching television and playing card games (not gambling) online. He’s still in a friendly relationship with my mother even though they are no more together since 10 years. He’s 65 and not in good shape.
You may have heard of him because he helped me a lot with my personal finance since I was a kid. He’s very proud of his son job and nice salary, even though it means that I have to live far from him. As always we spent few hours discussing finances.
I showed him my NW document and my FIRE goals, without going deep into the math. I told him the 4% rule and the target NW to call it FI. He’s supportive, it’s always been a dream of his. When he was young he thought: “accumulate 100M Italian Liras (50K Euros…) and you’ll live out of CDs dividends!”. Good thing he didn’t follow his plans 🙂 Sometimes I’m scared that what I’m planning right now will look so silly in 30 years and my future failure would then look so predictable.
Anyway, this post is not about money and finances.
We discussed briefly his lifestyle: no activities, little social life, a smoking addiction and a non negligible alcoholic consumption. I fear for his health. Both his parents died relatively young (grandpa 66, grandma 79) and he’s not taking care of himself. Obviously, I didn’t throw all these facts on the table at once. After our first day together I saw him so tired and took the chance: “father, you should do more physical activity. You’ve got plenty of time. You’re not too old! During my last hike trip I’ve been hiking for 2 days with 3 retired men of your age, then I had to slow down because I wasn’t able to keep their pace!! You are so pale and it’s summer. C’mon, walk at least an hour each day, get some sun, breathe some fresh air!”.
I was prepared for a wide range of possible answers – ranging from depression to anger – but his caught me unprepared: “I know, I should do more… but sometimes I do walk and reach the woods in my neighborhood… but then I don’t know what to do, I get bored.”
His answer was unexpected, even though I’m solid on this topic. I decided to smile him back and listen to him instead of replying directly. In my mind thousands of possible answers, suggestions, solutions to the boredom problem. But I need to accept that there are people who can’t be helped on this.
People get bored. As far as I can understand, this is a thing. My father has never been a curious person. That’s sadly funny to see how he was aiming to his own Financial Independence without anything to do with his time. He was accompanied to pension in 2006, at age 55, and his life slowly decayed to misery. Laziness and lack of curiosity destroyed him. He’s no more the fast-thinking person he was till 10 years ago. And he’s been lucky: millennials in Italy will have to work till age 75. He retired at 55 thanks to an unsustainable pension system who brought Italy to the 3rd largest national public debt worldwide.
Anyway, what is boredom? I don’t care about “boring moments” like waiting in a line or going to work with nothing to do or being stuck at the airport for hours with no internet… I care about boredom mindset. The permanent state of mind where if you don’t have something mandatory to do then you’ll get bored. People who are scared when I tell them I dream FIRE because “you’re going to get bored”. People with no passions. People with zero curiosity. People that fear to fail in trying new things or simply scared by new things. People who don’t want to be intellectually challenged. People with fixed mindset.
In my opinion, boredom mindset is one of the worst mental illnesses you can get. It prevents you to enjoy life at its full potential. And it’s a choice. Essentially you limit yourself by self locking your feet with ball and chain!
Why so many people seem to be infected by it? Seriously, it’s the top complaint when I tell people my plans: “you’re going to get bored”. Maybe it’s simply the normality: people have not explorative minds. People don’t ask themselves too many questions. People don’t question what they see and what they experience. Maybe that’s why religions are so popular: religion it’s the utterly “don’t ask” medicine. Maybe curiosity and creativity are not the norm.
[Fun Story: well, it’s not so fun, it’s actually turbo-sad. But it’s worth sharing: few days ago I read an article that made me think about the boredom problem. It was shared by some racist person on facebook that I happen to accidentally not have yet removed from my contacts with the intent of: “look, everyone says cops are criminals because they hurt black people, but look at how good people are these two guys…”. The article is in Italian but it says that an old couple of retired people were so bored and lonely that they started crying and screaming till someone called the cops. The cops spent few hours with the old couple and they cooked together and talked a little bit. Yes, ok, it makes for an amazing headline on a local newspaper. But what the fuck… how can someone start screaming because they feel bored? They are not even “alone, they are together, they are a couple! Don’t they have anything to do? Any passion? Read a book! Cook a new recipe. Go walking. Study Biology. Learn Swahili language and please… no. There’s no such thing as being too old for learning something new. Few years ago it died at age 110 Carla Porta Musa, an amazing Italian writer with 100 years of career and a lot of projects left unfinished on her deathbed. I’m sorry, I can’t sympathize with the old couple mentioned in the article]
I’m good at talking, am not I? But I mentioned that I’ve experienced sparkles of boredom during my longest sabbatical before joining Hooli. Yes, I had a lot of excuses, but truth is that I experienced signals of meaninglessness and uselessness when I hadn’t anything mandatory to do. This is something I need to address before FIRE if I want it to be a success on psychological level too.
Next question is: how to prevent the boredom illness for a person at my age, with my background? My recipe has 4 ingredients:
- Be curious, learn new things. Assume you know very little about yourself. Be open to new experiences, even those who look not interesting at first sight.
- Be creative. Train your creativity muscle everyday. Creativity and curiosity are two amazing medicines.
- Be active, do things. Think less, plan slightly less and do more. Feel your body. Don’t waste it. Push it to the limits. Do sports go to sleep physically tired at least twice a week.
- Be social. Meet new people and get to know them. Listen to them like today is their last day on earth. Share your passions, meet people similar to you for 80% of your time and people completely different from you in the remaining 20% to avoid overfitting with what you believe you currently are. Don’t be afraid of those who are different from you, or think differently. Embrace diversity.
If you keep training your body, your creativity, your curiosity and your sociality you will never get bored. In fact you’ll reach the opposite state of mind. There’s no word for that so I ‘m here to tell you I’m forging a new one: sboredom (joking, it really sucks! In Italian it looks like a bad word!). That state of mind where you know you’ll never get bored anymore. You know the time you’ve left on earth is not enough to satisfy all your current passions, let alone those passions you don’t know yet you have!
That’s the necessary state of mind for even desiring to be FIRE!
That state of mind will make you hate wasting your time, like waiting on a line or going to work when you don’t enjoy what you’re doing. That state of mind where you even question Hooli as a workplace – and you know 99.9% of the people would immediately swap their job to yours if given the chance. You get more aware of priorities in life. You know your time is limited and there’s no way you’re going to waste it doing something you don’t want.
And then I think about RIP Sr and about the world being filled with people like him. All the time in the world at their service and nothing to do. Screaming because you feel alone and lost.
How to cure society from this evil epidemy?
Working 40+ hours per week is not going to help. You don’t have time to explore who you are and what you could be. After 40+ years of mentally unchallenging activities you’re left with no energy to explore further. I sincerely hope that this paradigm will be rejected at society level thanks to automation and no need for everybody to work that much. Part time jobs, 60%, 50%, something like 20-25 hours per week should be the new normal. More time for yourself at 20-30-40 years will make you a better person.
Early Retirement is one of my dreams simply because slowing down is not socially accepted and hard to implement today. Early retirement is a vertical part-time strategy, opposite to conventional horizontal part-time where you work less per week but still till “retirement age”. It seems that things are changing though. Studies and experiments are happening all around the world. Part-time working is shown to boost productivity. In Sweden they’re experimenting with 6 hours workday. In Switzerland working 80%, 60% or 50% and taking prolonged sabbatical is becoming more common. I hope that in the near future working today’s 50% will become the new standard, so that we’ll call 40 hours per week “working 200%”.
Having more time alone is not enough though. That’s actually the “old retired couple” problem. Do I want to give them more free time? To make them suffer even more? Am I so evil?? If you’re not trained to be a curious person you won’t spend your extra time aiming to sboredom.
Education plays an important role here. Did I mention I want to revolutionize schools? I’ve been a volleyball coach for 2 years in the past. Kids in the age range 10-14. Even though it was such an amazing experience, like that time when my guys won a match on the day of my 21st Birthday against the top team in our league, I’ve had sad moments with them while probing their curiosity. Kids are fun, but at one point they stop exploring and quickly adapt to what’s out there. That point is shifting toward earlier stages of their lives. Their imagination is driven by what they saw in the latest blockbuster movie or videogame: “Spiderman is the best!!”, “I love minions!”, “I know all pokemons names!!”.
When I ask if they are curious about how the world works, how math works, what’s the “matter”, what are the “forces”, why we experience gravity,… none gives a shit. When I ask them to come up with a nonexistent super hero and imagine his super powers… no, sorry, creativity is not living here anymore.
What a shame! Education should help kids to be creative and curious. Reward them not by the solutions they give to simple and brainless problems, but by the questions they bring to the table. Teach them not to be sure. Not unsure of themselves, but unsure of the answer they find to the questions they ask. Help them find the answers to their questions and then question the answers. Teach them how to verify a solution and how to reach the same conclusion in 10 different ways. Make kids love to go to school to learn and play, and not let them be scared by examinations.
In my why school kids will have a question book they fill over the years. The lessons will be interactive and nothing is taught directly but stories are told. Questions will be asked and kids will go hunting for answers and comparing different answers found by different kids. More questions will come. Teachers will help students to structure their knowledge and help them model the world.
Okay, that’s too much for this post, I started ranting 🙂 The why school project must wait their turn in my infinite todo list… Yes, it’s one of the bittersweet problems with sboredom: you have more projects than time!
So how can I help someone who’s paralyzed by boredom mindset? How should I help RIP Sr? How can you help you beloved friends/relatives who suffer the same illness? I guess the best way is showing leadership and integrity: teach by doing, be an example. Involve them in your passions, show them how you can take a challenge on something you’ve never been good at. “Look, I’m attending Tango lessons and we all knew I totally sucked at dancing! Now after 3 months I’m good at it and I’m having a lot of fun! Why don’t you try?”. Start early, as soon as signs of boredom mindset appears. Don’t let it settle down, it’s harder to defeat then.
Say no to boredom, say welcome to sboredom!