I’m never going to stop reading—the act of listening to the eternal words of those that have lived and are living life to the fullest—there are many surprises to be found, mined like precious jewels. This morning, I was hit upside the head with this expression of truth in an interview with Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, as conducted by Bill Moyers:
Moyers: And what did you find? (in regards to the research of what Lawrence-Lightfoot calls “the third chapter” of life, the ages between fifty and seventy-five).
Lawrence-Lightfoot: That we’re ready for something new; that all of us, to some degree, experience burnout. Burnout is not about working too hard, or working too diligently, or being overcommitted. Burnout is about boredom. In some ways it’s about moving beyond the boredom to compose, to invent and reinvent the path that we’re on.
As someone that has experienced the chilling grip of apathy commonly associated with burnout, I was struck straight to the core by the very words: “Burnout is about boredom.” I always thought that my periods of burnout were caused by working too hard, not hard enough, or not living up to some expectation that I had for my life, but the more I looked at the past, I saw a familiarity instead, which arose from the day to day work that I was doing. That familiarity bred complacency, and I was struck blind by the fear that came when I eventually attempted to change and walk a different path from daily life.
To search for something new is to conquer fear. We see that our life needs to be either invented, creating that which doesn’t exist, or re-invented, transforming and repurposing a life that does exist. But the trap is triggered when we think that we have all the answers, and no longer search for new questions.
Much like a virus infecting a weakened immune system, boredom infects our souls when we least expect it and when we are at our weakest. This infection of boredom magnifies fear and complacency causing us to slumber and drift through life until the third chapter of our lives when we are awakened by the reality of impending death.
I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want to wait until the third chapter of my life to learn this lesson of burnout and boredom, sleeping through the next 20 years waiting, wishing and never doing. So, what can I learn from these words of wisdom?
Create a list… Compose a life
I need to compose a life that is worth living, not only for the sake of my sanity, but for the sake of others who view my life and find meaning in it. When friends and family see me go beyond what society and culture says is normal or even required, they realize they want that for their lives. When complacency no longer grips me, fear melts away, boredom disappears, and I am no longer clouded by the lies and deceptions that I tell myself about my ultimate worth and value.
Part of composing a life is the creation of a list of things that I want to do, experience and accomplish throughout my life. Affectionately called a “Bucketlist,” this is something that people often set out to do when they retire or when they eventually have the means (time and money). But why wait until you are older, why not make your life a living bucketlist? Actually pursuing accomplishments and goals in life that matter today, not just what we think will matter tomorrow?
For someone that is too focused on today and not having enough vision for tomorrow, this idea of living a daily bucketlist is enticing, freeing, and a little scary. It means to not only do the work that needs to get done—the daily projects for my business, the chores that make my home a more pleasant place, the exercise that creates a healthy body, and the reading, prayer and meditation that transforms my spirit into a healthy temple—it also means to take time to play, to dream, to try something new. To work on writing a list of things I would like to do, simultaneously living that list.
Once you are in the process of composing and creating the life you want to live, you have a foundation for structure and parameters that give you meaning and purpose in your life. You no longer want people to tell you who you are, or even to validate the journey you are on.
You simply want to continue traveling down a path with fellow travelers, sharing successes and failures, dreams and visions that have come to pass, and encouraging and helping one another towards the end goal, where we will hopefully hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”