It’s okay to be boring

Embrace being boring. Take the time for deep learning to become interesting.

It’s okay to be boring
I want to be interesting, like almost everyone else. But I got tired of chasing it because it became clear to me that I wanted to be interesting for others, not for myself. I still want to be interesting, but this time I’m doing it at my own pace. So, rather than finding ways to become more interesting, I’m learning to be okay with being boring first. Boring? How can you be okay with being boring? How does that relate to being interesting? This is one of the discomforts I managed to confront recently because I struggled with priorities in the last quarter. I lost focus because I was interested and wanted to do many things at once but it wasn’t feasible. I see myself as a curiosity-driven person but another part of me is drawn to many things because they may make me more interesting. Interesting is subjective. For me, being interesting means being knowledgeable enough to clearly convey ideas and articulate my interests. What that means is being able to contribute and engage in different discussions of my interests with others, such as product management, mindfulness, movies, climate change, and more. I grew up in an environment that didn’t hold space or allow me to take time to explore what is interesting and understand why they interest me. It didn’t help that the local education was dismal, where we were spoon-fed our subjects. I studied in a local government school in Malaysia where I was pressured and surrounded by peers who studied for the results, because that was all everyone, including teachers and family, cared about. The teachers taught us the “right” way to study without understanding the concepts properly because that was the easiest way to score good grades. Questioning teachers was discouraged because it would seem like an act of disobedience, so students rarely raised their hands. It was no wonder that learning sparked no joy. It might be different now, but that was how I remembered school. When I found myself surrounded by more “intelligent” and “knowledgeable” peers in my young adult years, my self-awareness hit and shit, I actually don’t know a lot about a lot of things, including current affairs. I felt envious and ashamed of how ignorant I was, compared to others who had spent their formative years exposed to a better teaching and learning environment. When I see smarter people having discussions I’m not familiar with, I feel the fear of missing out. I’ll nod and pretend to understand while feeling the awkwardness creep in as I don’t have any context to contribute to the discussions. Slowly I pull myself back because I feel alienated from the rest. Like everyone else, I just wanted to belong. But since I didn’t even know where I want to belong, anywhere was good as long as the group was part of my interests. Somehow an unconscious decision was developed that in order to belong somewhere, I had to be more interesting and signal to others I was also one of them. So, I scrambled to familiarise myself and accumulate... whatever interesting information that would make me more interesting, so that I can connect with others and make more friends. However, the depth of my knowledge of subjects is often shallow. I know some facts, but often nothing substantial. Only enough to hold shorter conversations. For example, I might be interested in Stoicism, but I won’t be able to express my interest well enough compared to people who are actually knowledgeable in it. It would make me feel like a fraud and fearful that I’m never enough to belong because of the lack of opinions. At the same time, I was afraid if I dived too deep into a topic, I might waste my time because I could have used it to acquire new knowledge instead. If I didn’t, I’d be out of date and boring. If I were boring, then I’d be less liked by others. If no one liked me, I wouldn’t fit in anywhere to belong. That was the thought process I concluded through journaling my worries. And the cause was the fear of being boring. My partner is the opposite. When he gets into a topic, I’ll see him rabbit-holing on days’ end until he’s satisfied. I’m envious I don’t have that level of focus or patience because I want to see quick results. While I do enjoy the process of doing things, I want to be interesting asap. Wanting to see quick results by scratching only the surface has been my downfall for years. I lose focus and depth because I’m jumping from one interest to another without understanding them more. Random facts without any real substance.
Only recently did I realise that to actually become interesting I needed to overcome the mental barrier of being boring. I need to be okay with being boring for a while so I can focus on deep-diving into a topic properly. I have the following tweet to thank:
every insanely interesting person I know seems to have been completely comfortable being boring for a very long time while they investigated what exactly about their interests was interesting to them Molly Mielke
To become interesting, we must first be comfortable with being boring. And that’s the hardest part, for me. I’ll have to go through the long and arduous process of deep learning, instead of acquiring small, different pieces of knowledge that are easy and quick wins. The irony is by my definition, I’m still boring since I haven’t dipped my toes deep enough in most subjects to be knowledgeable and engage in discussions. I’m hovering at the boring stage. Again, I’m afraid it will take so much time to learn, so I would rather move on with easy wins instead. As I’m writing this, it feels... almost sad that I craved the sense of belonging so much that I sacrificed my enjoyment of learning to be more interesting to others. It turned out that I didn’t need to be knowledgeable to make friends; I just needed to find the crowd that I could vibe with. I no longer need to impress others so much, except maybe for my past self. Deep down I might already have known this but I didn’t dare to acknowledge it because it challenged my current way of learning. At first, I felt anxious it might take me some more years to unlearn because that might put me even behind my peers again. However, writing and reflecting on this piece is a great reminder to me of what’s more important — deeply exploring why my interests interest me. It isn’t easy, but I slowly feel the pressure of being interesting for others getting released bit by bit and replaced with a sense of relief. Now I’m learning and embracing being boring by taking my time to deeply learn before becoming interesting later.

Big thanks to Caryn Tan, as well as Jason Nguyen, Daniel M, and Jude Klinger, for providing feedback.