Challenging Is Not Interesting

My favorite job ever was working at a bookstore. I was surrounded by books and talked about books all day. Someone would come in and say “I’m looking for that book by that guy” and I would lead them to the book they were looking for.

I would still be working at a bookstore if I could make a living wage at it. It was wonderful, interesting, and engaging. Thrilling even. But even way back then my slightly above minimum wage job barely covered my rent.

In Cube Land, where I can make more money, if I’ve had one manager tell me, “We want you to be challenged here,” I’ve had half a dozen. “You’ve got potential. You’re smart. We want you to be challenged here.” Challenged always feels like it needs to be italicized. It’s so special.

The assumption is if I’m challenged (see what I mean about the italics?), I’ll be more engaged and excited about your work.

Fellow cubemates, I now know that this is not true. For years, decades, I thought: “What is wrong with me? This is challenging work. Why am I so bored?” And not a little bored, but, like, Olympic qualifying levels of bored.

There’s nothing wrong with me. Challenging does not equal interesting. Challenging really means more complicated and harder, or as is often the case, just more work.

The opposite of challenging is not boring. The opposite of challenging is easy. The opposite of interesting is boring.

My favorite bookstore job was interesting and easy. Standing up at the register wasn’t my favorite, but it didn’t kill me with boredom the way sitting in the cube all day does no matter what I'm doing. (How being in the cube can suck the joy out of anything except donuts is another post).

I know what you’re saying, maybe even shouting: the job at the bookstore was easy for you because of your love of books, because you were so engaged, because it was interesting.

Yes. True. And that’s my point. A job you’re interested in can be easy or challenging, it almost doesn’t matter.

A job you’re not interested in, not engaged by? There’s no amount of being challenged or "leveling up" or "working to your strengths" that’s going to make that job interesting.

With challenging, boring jobs, the amount of time and life energy required to get the uninteresting work done exhausts me. Also, spending so much of my life force on something that my boss will look at for 5 minutes, then put aside never to be referenced again...

I will never get those hours of my life back.

Easy, boring jobs may not make as much money, but they do allow me some free mind time while in the cube. I need those hours, that energy, to write things like this.