Be Boring. Please.

A recently-graduated friend of mine asked me if I’d write a post on how to successfully navigate life as an adult. So, here, fail-proof Crockpot recipes!

Totally just kidding. I could not write that post, because I’ve failed a few of those. (Fun fact: if you accidentally leave a Crockpot on all night, you can turn apple-glazed pork chops into faintly apple-scented charcoal briquettes.)

So instead, I thought I’d share one thing I’m currently working on. This is the single most important piece of advice I would give to myself, and to my generation: be boring.

Maybe when you're five. But probably not at twenty-five.

Maybe when you’re five. But probably not at twenty-five.

Why? Here are a few reasons.

One: Boring people don’t do things for attention.

When I was in high school, some of our youth leaders told us how they proposed to their wives. One of them advised the guys in the group to consider putting time and effort into their proposal to show their future wife how much they cared. Which immediately set my sixteen-year-old friends into a brainstorming session involving flamethrowers and grenade launchers.

The point being, there’s a difference between creating a meaningful proposal as an act of love, and creating an elaborate, impressive proposal for the sake of getting attention. (One of those differences might possibly be filming it and putting it on YouTube. I’m just saying.)

Or maybe we could not do this. Because if that is the goal of your proposal, I am sensing a difficult marriage ahead of you...

Or maybe we could not do this. Because if that is the goal of your proposal, I am sensing a difficult marriage ahead of you…

We’re not just talking proposals here, of course. General principle: don’t do things to be noticed. Do them because you care about people. It’s great to hold doors open, give gifts, use your talents, and receive praise for a job well done. But if you are only serving to be seen, giving to get, or doing something to impress others, it doesn’t really matter.

Two: Boring people work hard.

This one’s for my grandpa, who represents his generational stereotype in perfect form by finishing off nearly every phone conversation with some variation on, “Now remember, hard work pays off.” It’s a motto that feels like it’s a musty heirloom from another generation.

Let’s bring it back, shall we?

I’m not telling you to climb corporate ladders or anything (see the next point). I think the American dream is pretty empty—like, did you read The Great Gatsby in your high school lit class? What I am saying is that it’s easier to put effort into the things we enjoy and put off or avoid the things we don’t instead of gritting our teeth and getting the hard things done.

Like learning how to ask good questions of others in a conversation. Or fill out boring adult paperwork. Or refusing to show favoritism, taking out the trash, forgiving the person who didn’t ask for it, and saying no to the second doughnut. The sort of stuff that will never be on a “List of X Things To Do Before You’re 30” but should be.

This meme comes from a commentary on how hard it is to be an adult that, let's face it, our grandparents would not have been able to relate to. Though it is funny.

This meme comes from a commentary on how hard it is to be an adult that, let’s face it, our grandparents would not have been able to relate to. Though it is funny.

Three: Boring people are content.

A lot of Millennials seem to be waiting for the next thing: the dream job, the church where they really “click,” the relationship that will make them blissfully happy (or at least impress their Facebook friends). But those things never seem to work out when we want them, or they do come along but aren’t as awesome and shiny as they seemed to be from a distance.

The alternative, I think, is better: live an unentitled life. Don’t assume you deserve [insert grass-is-greener-scenario here]. If you live in humility, not expecting everything to be handed to you, not demanding that everything work out according to your plan every single time, not basing your happiness on something other than God, it’s easier to be content.

Four: Boring people are in control.

When I was a kid, I remember on car trips whining the usual line, “I’m starving.” And my dad would say, “No, you’re not starving. Not even close. Remember, you are the master of your stomach. It is not the master of you.”

Was this any comfort at all to me when I was seatbelted on a deserted highway miles from the nearest fast food oasis, clutching my empty juice box in agony? No. Years later, do I appreciate the wisdom and maturity of that idea? Absolutely.

What my dad was saying was an echo of 1 Corinthians 6:12-13, where Paul picks up on the food metaphor to say, basically, “Just because you have desires doesn’t mean you have to give in to them.” In that scenario, the idea was being the master of your sinful sexual cravings, but we don’t have to stop the application there.

You are the master of your spending choices. They are not the master of you. You are the master of how you will respond to the bad weather, or a sudden change in plans, or your irritating coworker. They are not the master of you. You are the master of your emotions. They are not the master of you—not when you wonder if God’s listening, not when you think you might be in love with someone who isn’t yours to love, not when you just don’t feel like doing what you know you should.

It’s easier (and super popular right now) to pass the blame to something or someone else or to say you just can’t help it. But that’s a lie, and also an unhealthy, victimized way to live.

Five: Boring people let themselves be inconvenienced.

There are Christian folks freaking out all over the Internet because this generation is marrying and having kids later, if they do at all. People talk about the Peter Pan mindset, a perpetual adolescence where things like work or setting goals are momentary interruptions of video games and Netflix binges.

I get the concern. Really, I do. But I don’t think your stage of life automatically forces you into this category…and I don’t think the solution is to lecture Millennials into marrying earlier (though there is something to be said about not fearing commitment).

Instead, I think the problem is this: married people are forced to be unselfish because they have another person to consider who is not going away. Married people with kids are forced to be unselfish every single waking moment and quite a few I-should-be-sleeping moments, because they have one or more demanding little people dependent on them.

For the most part, I think single people have to choose to be unselfish, to look for opportunities to let other people inconvenience them. Maybe it’s thinking about how you use your free time, or calling a somewhat-difficult family member, or showing up to help your friend move and not just to help her watch a Star Wars marathon. Whatever it looks like, be intentional to make your life about serving others. (Obviously, this point isn’t just for the single folks out there, but I mention that because I think it takes a little extra effort for us.)

 

And yet she does, and I think it's a beautiful (if bittersweet) ending.

And yet she does, and I think it’s a beautiful (if bittersweet) ending.

There are some times when it’s totally fine to be interesting—to go on a spontaneous adventure or work hard to make a presentation unique or say yes to a scary-but-awesome opportunity. I am not telling you to deliberately avoid these things, or to conform and be just like everyone else. There are times for being extraordinary when trying to find your place in the adult world.

That said, I think we make a mistake when we put a quest for significance—for standing out and leaving a mark—at the center of our lives. There are too many of us trying to change the world and not enough of us trying to change our attitude toward staying on a budget.

I think we could stand to be a little less extraordinary, because maybe then we’d appreciate more the kind of ordinary faithfulness God asks of us, every day, whether we feel like it or not, in all the mundane details of our lives.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten on being an adult?

6 comments

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad you and your wife are enjoying them. And now I feel like I should read my posts out loud (it would probably help me catch mistakes!).

  1. I wouldn’t say that one is boring by doing these things, but more like selfless, which you do say later on. I see it more as the center of the argument. Very good points. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Dan! And you’re right, it’s probably more accurate to say that the advice is boring, instead of advice like “Take risks” or “Follow your dreams.”

  2. I wanted to give you a bit of my struggles in the area you touched on in “Be Boring. Please.”

    Of course, you know my age, turning 80 in a few days and the many years (more than 40) as a ‘missionary’ trying to do what the Lord wants me to accomplish here in Paraguay. My reoccurring question is, Have I really accomplished anything worth while? I’m not crying or whining, just stating reality.

    We have been very content here and God has been absolutely faithful and encouraging every step of the way. But the tendency to want recognition, to leave something behind when I am not on the scene anymore, like an ongoing program or project (neither of which I can point to), has plagued me from time to time. Even to the point of attempting to write one or two novels and even a collection of poems. But upon reviewing my motives for writing, I’ve suspected it’s because it is more about wanting to have something to be remembered by than furthering the interests of God and His people. I still have one book about a third first draft written, but don’t worry, it’ll probably be trashed like all the others.

    Well, there is a Biblical example that has always come to mind at just the right time. It underlines a very revealing defect in the character of David’a son, Absalom, as mentioned in 2 Sam. 18:18. To Absalom were born three sons, all of whom apparently did not survive (2 Sam. 14:27). So, as indicated in the full story of his life, he was looking for recognition, continuation, and not having surviving males, he erected a monument in the King’s Valley and named it after himself. But he didn’t end up so well, either.

    In the final analysis, God’s approval is the truly important recognition, so I’m going to keep trying to be boring.

    I don’t know if I’ve expressed my thoughts very well, if not, trash it.

    I enjoy your posts and love you lots,

    Grandpa

    1. Grandpa,

      This is beautiful and encouraged me a lot. I feel like you encapsulated a struggle that we all have in different forms no matter our stage of life.

      As I was writing this post, when I mentioned something Dad taught me in Point Four, I realized he probably never realized that I remembered it, that it mattered to me, and it made me wonder how much of an impact we have on others around us without even realizing it.

      In the end, though, like you said, even that isn’t what we should live for. I love that, at the end of his life, Paul’s summary is this: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Not a list of his accomplishments. Just faithfulness. I want to be able to do that too, and I’m grateful for his example and yours and Grandma’s of lives well lives.

      I love you!

      Amy

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