Why Your Soul-Sucking Job Makes You Creative

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Got a crummy job? Spending hours staring at the ever-enlarging rubber-band ball on your desk? Looking to switch career paths and head for greener grass? Not so fast "“ you could be shooting your creativity in the foot. Because, I guess your creativity has feet. (That's exactly how creative people think, I am told). 

Take Ben Cameron in the UK for instance. He, perhaps like you, committed himself to a "very boring job" at a shop, most likely to make ends meet. The drudgery inspired him to channel his hatred for the work into a creative outlet "“ doodling. He draws these wickedly funny, macabre, and even a shade depressing captioned cartoon doodles of raccoons getting run over, bears who don't know how to love, and baby dinosaurs facing extinction. They're now fetching him a pretty penny after being sold online. 

"I used to doodle to get a reaction from colleagues and Twitter - they pay my rent now!" celebrates Cameron. Well, if that isn't a ringing endorsement for menial labor, I don't know what is. 

But is Cameron's situation atypical? His talent is uncommon and undeniable, that's true: Not everyone is as gifted in the drafting arts. But barring that natural gift, can creative people flourish because of their soul-sucking day jobs? Science wants to say, "Yeah, totes, for sure!"

 
This Bored Kid Could Instead Be Inventing a Cure for Boredom, China Photos / Getty Images News

 

One of the symptoms of mind-numbing workplace syndrome (MNWS) is daydreaming. Well, studies performed at University of Central Lancashire point to conclusions that daydreaming at work can actually improve creative functioning. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Well, maybe it is. But when you get bored, your mind takes a little yawn, recollects itself, and stretches. In that realm, the brain has time to operate laterally, meaning it gets to explore wherever it wants to go. This can lead it to some very bizarre destinations, but also to some very significant ones. 

Here's an example: Your boss just roped you into a meeting for an account you're not even related to. Why? Torture, that's why. She wants you to pay attention, but say nothing. What do you do instead? You stare off into the void, flick on the internal radio in your mind, and book an imaginary flight to white beaches kissed by lapping turquoise waves. Ahh, paradise. 

Well, in that place you actually might have epiphanies and other realizations you wouldn't have if you were constantly focused. The thing is, whatever gruntwork your boss has required of you, it's got to allow you to drift into the great beyond: So reading senseless reports or attending pointless conference calls is perfect. If your day is filled with asinine activities like that, it'll give your brain wiggle room.

 
These Brains Need to Get Out More, Dan Kitwood / Getty Images News


Now, you might also say "Well, Ben Cameron is just a flash in the pan. He's just a doodler, for Pete's sake!" Well, doodling is an art form too. The New Yorker has been featuring cartoons as a staple in their publication for almost a century. Cameron's creative output is matched, even surpassed, by other masters of their craft who also held down mundane vocations that could've been performed by machine. 

For crying out loud, Albert Einstein worked a humdrum post as a civil servant in a patent office. And Einstein discovered relativity theory, which explains a lot of the weirdness of the universe. His perfunctory professional life gave him ample time to take walks, take more walks, space out (LOL, space), go to the pub, drink, and most importantly, think a lot. 

Franz Kafka, one of the greatest authors that ever lived, worked at a bureaucratic law firm until he died. He hated his job. Hated it. He found his escape in his writing, and thanks to his oppressive, unfulfilling occupation we now have an incomparable addition to the World's Library. Harper Lee, who wrote what is arguably the greatest American novel To Kill a Mockingbird, was an airline ticket taker when not putting pen to paper. Kurt Cobain, the late front man for Nirvana, was a janitor before making it big. Talk about a dirty job. 


Toilet-Shaped Box, Frank Micelotta / Hulton Archive / Getty


I'm sure having to show up each day to these miserable jobs also compelled these artists to seek refuge in the thing they really loved. Doctor Anton Chekhov, the Russian short story writer and playwright, once said, "Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress." Who wouldn't want to get frisky with their mistress every night after a tough day at the office? 

So when you near your tipping point, when no more pencils are left standing for you to snap in two, when you consider yanking the fire alarm just to add a little variation to the day, think about how the boredom might be a blessing in disguise. Your finest creative hour might be the same one you spend stapling papers that will one day soon only be shredded to bits. What out-of-the-cranium thoughts will descend upon you as you look into the waste bin, contemplating the apparent meaninglessness of reality? 

Necessity might be the mother of invention. But boredom is like your wacky uncle who visits on the holidays and performs magic tricks for you and makes rabbits appear out of the tiny end of a turkey baster. See that? I thought of that while I was staring at the fluorescent light that hangs over my desk like the sword of Damocles.
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