Among the many luxuries we enjoy in modern capitalist society, perhaps the one most taken for granted is the gift of boredom. Naturally teenagers are the least appreciative of this precious commodity, yet they are one of the main beneficiaries.

Before the modern age, there was effectively no such thing as a teenager, as adult responsibility was often thrust upon kids at an alarmingly young age. But fortunately the modern bourgeoisie capitalist world gives teens enough time to pursue their own interests and define their own life in ways that were once defined for them.

One of the earliest and most successful teenage dreamers of the modern age was a kid from Stratford-upon-Avon named William Shakespeare. While young Will didn’t exactly grow up in a world as comfortable and plague-free as we enjoy today, he still entered a society of relatively robust upward mobility and wealth compared with what generations of young boys grew up in during the feudal age.

William’s father John Shakespeare was born to a family toiling away on a farm, but thanks to the fact that Elizabethan England had a relatively free labor market (serfdom was never quite as entrenched in Britain the way it was on parts of the European mainland) he was able to improve his station by becoming a leathermaker, a highly respectable trade in the mid-16th century.

Will’s mother Mary meanwhile came from a minor branch of a prominent family. Her father farmed and she probably grew up comfortable, but no more than that. She clearly married well as it seems that John Shakespeare was both successful and well liked, winning several elected offices before becoming high bailiff, the equivalent of Stratford’s mayor.

One of John Shakespeare’s duties as high bailiff was to approve city funds for hosting acting troupes coming through town. As Bill Bryson notes in his book (and my primary source for this article) Shakespeare: The World as Stage “Stratford in the 1570’s became a regular stop for touring players, and it is reasonable to suppose than an impressionable young Will saw many plays as he grew up and possibly received some encouragement and made some contact that smoothed his entrance into the London theater later.”

It remains unknown what exactly young William Shakespeare did to hone his craft as an aspiring actor and playwright, but it’s clear from his meteoric rise in the theatrical scene that he arrived in London with more than just raw talent.

By the time Shakespeare died in 1616 at the far too young age of 52, he was one of the most famous and successful playwrights in London. He had ownership stake in both his performing troupe and the famous Globe Theater in which they performed. He also was able to afford a large and prominent house in his hometown of Stratford and before his father’s death, he was able to secure a family coat of arms, sanctioning his and his family’s social rank as gentlemen.

The latter accomplishment may seem a bit shallow and vain to 21st century readers, but as Bryson cautions “we should perhaps remember that [performers] were men whose careers were founded on the fringes of respectability at a time when respectability meant a good deal.”

All in all, William Shakespeare didn’t do too bad for a kid who skipped college in favor of a life in the theatre. Yet the fact that Shakespeare was neither high-born nor university educated—unlike some contemporary playwrights like Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson—is partly why critics never fully embraced Shakespeare until nearly two centuries after his death.

In some respects Shakespeare was considered more of Steven Spielberg of his time, a guy who made great spectacle, but not necessarily great art.  Even after the Bard’s work ascended to familiar critical heights in the 19th century, there remained a certain disbelief that the most loved and respected writer in the English language was just a middle-class entertainer with a middling education. This even informs the lingering perception that Shakespeare’s plays were not in fact written by Shakespeare, for it is telling that nearly every alternative theory presents a man of higher birth and education as the “real” author.

To again quote Bill Bryson, “Shakespeare’s genius had to do not really with facts, but with ambition, intrigue, love, suffering – things that aren’t taught in school.” As someone who definitely benefited from going to college, I am not for a moment going to denounce the value of education. Yet as important as it is to be challenged at a young age, no small part of what I’ve managed to accomplish in life so far has been thanks to the occasional bout of sheer boredom.

Obviously, we can’t and won’t all be Shakespeare, nor can we all be Steve Jobs, Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift for that matter, but none of them could have gotten where they are without a good amount of downtime with which to channel their teenage angst into something productive and creative. This is a fact worth remembering the next time you see a bored, sullen teenager. He or she may be irritating, yet could one day change the world.