Advice to a (Bored) Young Man

by Derrick G. Jeter

Many years ago, when I was in graduate school, a professor quoted from the following article to motivate a class full of bored young men. I came across it recently and thought it especially appropriate today, not just for young men (and women) but for the middle-aged and the elderly.

It’s a curious thing: we must be the most bored people in the history of mankind. It’s certainly not because the times in which we live are boring. I suspect it’s because we have so many choices to fill our time. This, coupled with constant change and the lack of a general conviction of the meaning of life has led to a spirit of restlessness, which we try to assuage with trivial and banal pursuits—leading to a general sense of boredom. Perhaps if we tried to following Benjamin Franklin’s example—or at least made an honest attempt to do something worthwhile for the good of others—we’d find that life isn’t boring at all.

Died, age 20; buried, age 60.The sad epitaph of too many Americans. Mummification sets in on too many young men at an age when they should be ripping the world wide open.

For example: Many people reading this page are doing so with the aid of bifocals. Inventor? B. Franklin, age 79. The presses that printed this page were powered by electricity. One of the first harnessers? B. Franklin, age 40. Some reading this on the campus of one of the Ivy League universities. Founder? B. Franklin, age 45. Others, in a library. Who founded the first library in America? B. Franklin, age 25. Some got their copy through the U. S. Mail. It’s father? B. Franklin, age 31.

Now, think fire. Who started the first fire department, invented the lightning rod, designed a heating stove still in use today? B. Franklin, ages 31, 43, 36.

Wit. Conversationalist. Economist. Philosopher. Diplomat. Favorite of the capitals of Europe. Journalist. Printer. Publisher. Linguist (spoke and wrote five languages). Advocate of paratroopers (from balloons) a century before the airplane was invented. All this until age 84. And he had exactly two years of formal schooling.

It’s a good bet that you already have more sheer knowledge than Franklin ever had when he was your age. Perhaps you think there’s no use trying to think of anything new, that everything’s been done. Wrong. The simple, agrarian America of Franklin’s day didn’t begin to need the answers we need today.

Go do something about it! Tear out this page [or print it off] and read it on your 84th birthday. Ask yourself what took over in your life, indolence or ingenuity?

So, what are you waiting for? Or do you want to just sit there and be bored?

Richard Kerr, “Advice to a (bored) young man,” Newsweek (February 13, 1967): 112–113.