A confession. I’ve been bored for very large tracts of my life. Habitually bored. I suspect and I hope, but I cannot prove it, that boredom has done me no harm. That’s beyond, perhaps, a lingering, but perfectly tolerable sense of uneasiness. But one thing I hope this book will illustrate is that boredom is, in the Darwinian sense, an adaptive emotion. Its purpose, that is, may be designed to help one flourish. In that sense, I can’t help but feel that boredom has in some ways been a blessing.
I discovered, in the only way that a man ever really learns anything important, the real skill that is required to succeed in a bureaucracy. I mean really succeed: do good, make a difference, serve. I discovered the key. This key is not efficiency, or probity, or insight, or wisdom. It is not political cunning, interpersonal skills, raw IQ, loyalty, vision, or any of the qualities that the bureaucratic world calls virtues, and tests for. The key is a certain capacity that underlies all these qualities, rather the way that an ability to breathe and pump blood underlies all thought and action.
The underlying bureaucratic key is the ability to deal with boredom. To function effectively in an environment that precludes everything vital and human. To breathe, so to speak, without air. The key is the ability, whether innate or conditioned, to find the other side of the rote, the picayune, the meaningless, the repetitive, the pointlessly complex. To be, in a word, unborable. It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.
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