Rogue Ink

April 10, 2008

Being Bored Makes You Broke

We’re going to play with some simple economics for a moment here. It’s okay, this is very safe. I’m a University of Chicago graduate, and we’re quite famous for our economics departments full of Nobel Prize Laureates. I will grant you that none of those Laureates are me, nor did I ever take anything that remotely resembled an economics class at U of C, but my boyfriend did, and he was a conservative Republican Texan Marine, so we argued about economics a lot. And I always won. Which allows me to speak now with authority, and alacrity. And alliteration.

Pretend you work in a company.

You get paid a salary for doing a job. Picking a job entirely at random, let’s say you screw the heads onto plastic bunny rabbit wind-up dolls. You screw on 200 a day. If you do that, your boss is fine with your level of performance. That’s what he hired you for. 200 bunny heads a day.

Now, if you’re like most of us, you figure out pretty quick that it only takes you perhaps 3 hours of your eight-hour workday to screw 200 bunny heads. The rest of those five hours you spend fooling around online, daydreaming about churros, and trying to remember all the words to the Rubber Ducky song. That’s okay, though, because your boss only expects 200 bunny heads, and as long as you screw all 200, you will still get the same salary that you would if you screwed them all day long.

In fact, if you are in a job right now and you are vigorously screwing on 600 bunny heads a day in a company full of other people who screw 200 a day for the same salary, you are a damned fool if you don’t insist on a raise or slow the fuck down. Women apparently have a particular problem with this, so to all women out there, I beseech you: only screw vigorously for an appropriate salary. That is all.

Now. Pretend you are a freelancer.

Works a little different now. Now, a guy calls you up. He says, “I’ll pay you a dollar for every bunny rabbit head you screw on.” You say, “Can I do it from home?” and he says sure, because you’re a freelancer, and those are the perks. So instead of screwing bunny heads on in an office, you’re screwing them at home, on your couch, wearing yesterday’s underwear (this is the theoretical ‘you’ we are talking about. I personally have never done this.) And you screw 200 bunny heads.

Pop Quiz: What do you do then? Do you keep screwing, for another 5 hours and another $333.33? Or do you stop and go check out for the rest of the afternoon?

We will now bid adieu to our bunny rabbit head screwing analogy, somewhat regretfully, since it turned out to be more entertaining than we had anticipated, and come to our point.

When you work from home, every single minute that you spend being bored is wasting your money. You are no longer getting paid for your time, you are getting paid for your output. If I tallied all the time I spent just yesterday watching this blog’s stats go shooting into the stratosphere (and thank you all for making it possible), it would amount to about the same time period it generally takes me to write an article. You know what a good personal essay runs for in an online magazine? About $500. I just cheated myself out of $500. Just TODAY.

The idea of tallying how much money I have cheated myself of over the last few months is terrifying. I suspect it numbers in the tens of thousands. I am scared to calculate it. And I could use that money. I have student loans and a chocolate habit.

People in Hollywood are always bored. This should be a warning to us all.

I was talking to an actor friend of mine in L.A. Now, everyone knows that Hollywood is where young wannabe actors go to become waitstaff, but my friend is doing very well out there, which is baffling. He shouldn’t be doing well. He fits none of the demographics for a successful Hollywood actor. He’s about 5’5”, half-Japanese, half-Chinese, with an overbite and an Asian ‘fro (honey, if you ever read this, forgive me, but it’s all true). Yet he’s making a living as an actor in a place where actors go to die. How?

Most actors out there work the way most 9-to-5ers do. 3 hours a day. The absolute minimum. They go to their auditions and they go to parties and scan their customers for celebrities and the rest of the time they are being, quite attractively, bored. My friend goes to his auditions, comes home, works on a monologue, writes a screenplay, networks, pitches a TV show idea to a bunch of people, attempts to seduce Jennifer Love Hewitt . . . you get the idea. He puts in twelve hours a day or more into his job. And because of that, he’s beating all the odds. The reward of which is a new car, of which I am deeply envious, because it’s a Mini Cooper, and Mini Coopers were the only good thing about 2003’s The Italian Job remake.

If I put in twelve hours a day – if I even put in the EIGHT a day that we all theoretically work – if I actually WORKED during that time, I’d be making six figures, easy. So would you. Because all of your competition is only working three hours a day. They have succumbed to the boredom.

They have an excuse. Screwing bunny rabbit heads is boring. Running your own business doing something you enjoy, however, is deeply exciting. In a shiny new Mini Cooper way.

Running a business is hard. But it isn’t boring.

Here’s the thing: I like my work. Writing for a living is good times. Being my own boss rocks, because I enjoy working barefoot and sneezing without covering my mouth (forgive me, it’s true). Every tiny little thing I figure out to make my business better gives me a little thrill of glee, right here, in my Glee Center, located somewhere left of my femur and south of my coccyx (which is, by the by, the best word you can’t play in Scrabble).

All of that is because this business is MINE. When all is said and done, working your tail off to improve someone else’s company isn’t nearly as cool as working your tail off to improve your own. It’s satisfying, it’s terrifying, it’s a little magical, and I am never bored when I am doing it. I am psyched, in fact. I call folk up to tell them I got a new client, or figured out how to design a webpage, or – and this is true – changed the layout on my invoices. If you are truly bored with running your business, you are in the wrong business, and you should get another one.

But but but, you say. Running a business makes my head hurt. I need an aspirin. And all the episodes of Sex and the City, in order by season, on YouTube, to make the pain go away.

Yes, it is true. Being bored is easier than running your business. But it will also bankrupt you, and it will make you no less bored to indulge your boredom. Let’s face it, the things we do when we are bored are not things we would ever admit to doing if asked at, say, a dinner party, what we did that day. We never say, “I commented on Yahoo reviews for mediocre movies that I subsequently saw out of guilt for being mean-spirited with no firsthand knowledge of the inner workings of 10,000 B.C.” If you ever uttered these words aloud, I am willing to bet no one talked to you at that dinner party – or indeed in that area code – ever again. The things we do when we are bored are, in and of themselves, inherently boring, and we are generally a little ashamed that we did them.

Except for watching the Rubber Ducky song. That’s just pure joy. With bubbles.

Brief Unrelated Announcement.

I will be flying to NYC tomorrow and shall not be responding to comments as promptly as I have been wont to do. But I will respond! It will just take me until I change planes in Tennessee.

What, like you’ve never been routed through Tennessee?

Oh. You haven’t.

Me neither. I’m a little scared.

Hold me.



  1. I think a lot of what you are saying about staying busy as an entrepreneur is true. However, you didn’t really cheat yourself out of all that money if you didn’t have the work. Meaning, unless you have a backlog of clients – you’re earning time is limited. You can redesign your invoice all you want – but it’s not going to net you another dime.

    I guess what I’m saying is that in most cases you can’t quite look at it as lost revenue. You can, however, use the time to start drumming up business – which will in turn put you in that “all you can earn” scenario. I guess that’s where you’re cold call post (which I just finished reading) comes in.

    Anyway, good luck on your flights. Bring some Lunenesta – just in case. : )

    Comment by David @ PostcardPerfect — April 10, 2008 @ 5:10 am | Reply

  2. Yeah, but there’s a lot of work you can do as a freelancer that isn’t assigned. Writing articles, for example, which is why I mentioned it. Pitching people, and yes, cold-calling, networking. Anything, really, so long as it propels you forward. Investments.

    Lunenesta. I don’t even know what this is, but it sounds magical.

    Comment by Tei — April 10, 2008 @ 5:58 am | Reply

  3. Now I want to screw on bunny heads and sing Rubber Ducky. Damn you!

    Comment by Lori — April 10, 2008 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

  4. And lets not forget the old “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”

    But yeah: most of the time I work a lot more than other folks.. because down time doesn’t pay the bills.

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — April 10, 2008 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

  5. Great article! I would also like to add that if you are doing what you love (and if you don’t enjoy screwing bunnies, you should find something you love and do that instead) then you should actually ENJOY being busy and avoiding boredom.

    I find days when I am “entertaining myself” (instead of “working”) I actually still get a lot done – I find a new source for amazing fabric, I find really great advice on a blog, or I learn something I can apply to my business – and even though I wasn’t PRODUCING (heck, I have employees for that!) I am still “working”.

    Comment by Alisha — April 10, 2008 @ 3:25 pm | Reply

  6. I followed the trail from Naomi and am so glad I did.

    I shall come to find you again. Thank you for such an entertaining blog!


    Comment by Dee Harrison — April 10, 2008 @ 5:48 pm | Reply

  7. Fair enough. I think we’re on the same page.
    Lunesta = prescription sleeping pills – magical indeed.

    Comment by David @ PostcardPerfect — April 10, 2008 @ 6:29 pm | Reply

  8. Lori: Heeheehee. The rogue strikes again. With the stealthiness.

    Tony: Dull, yes. Rich? Also yes.

    Alisha: Thanks, sweetie. Come back around, we’re here all week. Well, every day. Etc.

    Dee: Thanks! Glad you’re here. That Naomi, she’s a wily one.

    David: Good to see you again. Prescription sleeping pills = fearful Tei addiction. I’m a horrible insomniac. I worry that if I get used to sleeping pills, I will never sleep without them again.

    Comment by Tei — April 11, 2008 @ 2:08 am | Reply

  9. First, great post.

    Second, you are an incredible inspiration, you’ve been doing this for how long now? You never cease to amaze me. This will keep me going tomorrow while I’m at work, screwing in my 200 bunny heads. I choose to screw in only 200, as it takes me about 90 minutes and allows me a lot of time to think. They won’t pay me more to screw in 1000 bunny heads, that’s just the way it works where I am.

    Third, did I mention you’re an incredible inspiration, and you’ve been kicking me in the ass for the last few days telling me to write more. Thank you, I needed that. You know it is something I like to do, but sometimes I need a kick in the ass. So watch out. More to come for you.

    Fourth, thank you.

    Fifth, have a safe flight to NYC tomorrow, and don’t forget to take that left turn at Tennessee.

    Comment by brettlegree — April 11, 2008 @ 3:06 am | Reply

  10. 201.

    Comment by 2ThePoint — April 13, 2008 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

  11. 201. I do 201 bunnies and I stop. I do the extra 1 to make a point: that I can make 202 – but I won’t.


    I plan to bookmark your blog, m’lady.

    Comment by 2ThePoint — April 13, 2008 @ 1:50 pm | Reply

  12. Brett: Damn skippy. Where’s my NEXT post, homefry?

    2ThePoint: Aw, thanks. You raced around commenting and I was pleased. I always like it when folks go through the archives.

    Comment by Tei — April 14, 2008 @ 8:55 pm | Reply

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