I was called “boring,” yet I was never bored

How I learned to come to terms with the dichotomy

My childhood idea of heaven

There’s a Switchfoot song whose lyrics, when I first heard them, felt like a telling of the story of my life.

I was trying so hard to fit in, fit in
Until I found out
That I don’t belong here
—Switchfoot, The Beautiful Letdown

Those lines, for me, captured that epiphanic moment when you see something about yourself, and it’s like your entire history swings into focus.

Except for me it wasn’t a moment. It was a whole period that began in my early twenties.

During that time I came to understand my longstanding history of being easily distracted as more a deficit of interest than of attention (more on which, here). And the more I’ve thought about my life in general, the more I see it was there all the time; I just didn’t recognise it.

Take secondary school. Even that far back, I mostly chose subjects based on my interest in them and I did well without ever feeling, to this day, like I studied that much— I was really just having fun learning.

Or take reading. To this day I still have no problem focusing on a book I’m enjoying, or on a conversation I’m interested in, and sometimes I can get so into it I forget food or forego sleep.

Or take conversations. I’ve been known to tune others out when I’m deep in conversation with one person. It’s not that I don’t realise they’re there — I do — they’re just not that important right then.(A valuable trait for my line of work, perhaps , but not so hot when those others are waiting their turn — or you’re keeping them waiting.)

Anyway, you get the point.

But there was more. On the heels of that understanding, a new realisation dawned.

My range of interests is limited.

At least if the lifelong feedback is to be believed. Perhaps I should more correctly say my range of interests appears limited. But I myself never did find them limiting. People called me boring growing up, but I myself was hardly ever bored. (How could I be, when I made sure to always arm myself with a book?)

I have come to see now, though, why others thought of me in that way.

I didn’t really start to grasp it until my late teen years, and I was well into adulthood before I became able to articulate it. But as I understand it now, my seemingly few interests are basically expressions of one single, overarching, capital-“I” Interest (yes, with capital “I”), to which everything else is derivative.

And this paramount Interest?

Ideas.

Everything else I’m interested in is rooted in that. [1]

I love reading because books, bar none, are the most amazing idea-transfer vehicle humanity ever invented.

I am fascinated by stories because in them ideas come brilliantly, gloriously, alive; seeming abstractions are embodied in characters that do and say things that trigger even more ideas. (And I especially love fantasy because why not?)

I delight in writing because it gives me a chance to “think aloud” about ideas and, by trying to articulate them, make them a little more real to me. And maybe to others.

I value intimate conversations (whether one-on-one, or in small groups) because they allow for the exploration of ideas with other people.

I enjoy arguments because they let you test ideas against competing ideas, proving some wrong and enriching others.

I’m excited by the science of the mind because what’s not to love about learning more and more about the parts of us that all these ideas come from?

I practice the Christian faith, because, well, the idea that there’s a God out there who, wonder of wonders, is right here too—that idea holds too much of a hold on my intellect and imagination that I have been unable to ignore its implications.

I’m not unique, of course, in the sense that I’m far from the only one so taken by the power of ideas. It’s arguable that we all are, in a sense, but in different ways. But even my particular way is not in itself unique. I’ve met others on the path, in person and (much more often) in print.

And yet it has been sometimes lonely.

Part of why it’s been lonely is this entire idea-fascination business does not make for the most social kind of life. A focus on ideas in general is not exactly popular. And the particular ways in which I am naturally inclined to indulge that focus are not easy to share with others. (Then again, how many are looking to share in them?)

So, no, my interests are not unique, not by a long shot. They’re just not viral.

So, yeah, I get it.

I didn’t always, but I do now, and I’ve made my peace with it.

Not all have made their peace with me.

That’s okay, too. [2]


[1] I should mention: I find that the older you get, the more you have to prioritise these ideas. Interest, it turns out, is not unlimited. Like time. Or because of time. Or both.

[2] I don’t always feel like it’s okay, of course. There’s always a difference between knowing anything to be true and actually feeling its truthiness, and the two often don’t coincide. That’s part of being human. And I’ve learned to be okay with that too.


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