At the grocery store. At work. At the gym. When you’re picking up your kids from school or calling to schedule a long-overdue dentist appointment. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you can’t escape the reality: people are busy!
Last week I shared a personal post about how my year started off in a less than ideal way. Since then, a couple of things have happened. First of all, I promised to cut myself some slack. I recognized that I was being much too harsh on myself and needed to accept that I am only human. I also started making adjustments to my schedule and planning my time more efficiently. I realized that I wasn’t using my time wisely in some cases which contributed to a lot more stress. But, the most wonderful and humbling thing that happened was the response from all of you! When you put yourself out there, imperfections and all, you often realize you’re not alone. Many people reached out to me through social media, in person and online to tell me how much that post resonated with them. It was interesting to hear, although hardly unexpected, that so many of us are taking on way too much and not giving ourselves a chance to catch our breaths. We are just so damn busy!
What is wrong with us that we feel as though if we aren’t busy, we are wasting our lives? Being busy has changed from being just a simple adjective to describe having a lot of things to do, to so much more. The truth is, “being busy” isn’t what it used to be.
It’s a state of being. “How are you doing?” “I’m good! I’m busy!”
We wear it like a badge of honour. “Oh, I am so busy these days, I’ve got just so much going on in my life.”
We use it as an excuse. “Sorry, I can’t; I’m busy.”
Or, we use it as a crutch. “I would love to sign up for that Spanish class, but I’m just too busy!”
What does it say about us that we are all so busy? I believe that we cling to the notion of being busy because we perceive there to be an inherent value in busy-ness (side note: I learned how to remember the spelling of business by pronouncing it “busy-ness”. Coincidence?). We seem to fill our plates with so many extra tasks that, for some of us, we don’t know what it means to “not be busy”. Are we afraid to be idle? What will it say about us if we aren’t busy? Does it mean that we are lazy? Unsuccessful? Not trying hard enough?
Being busy is often a strategy for distracting ourselves from our realities. The idea that if I just stay busy, I can avoid dealing with my grief/anger/sadness/frustration/you name it, and everything will be okay. Of course, eventually, we need to face the issue head on and prolonging it can be even worse. What happens when you remove the distractions in your life, when you quiet your “to do” list? Will you like the thoughts that come into your mind?
Then there’s the idea that we are “lucky” if we aren’t busy. Are we, though? Has not being busy become a luxury? Why can’t it mean that you are good at managing your time, or skilled at parsing down your “to do” list to only the most important items?
“Being busy has become a fall-back for living the lives we truly love and need.”
It all just seems so ridiculous to me. When we become busy, other areas of our lives often suffer: we sleep less, we eat foods we know aren’t nourishing, we give up leisure activities that make us happy, and, just like in my last post, we beat ourselves up when we inevitably drop some of those balls we’ve been juggling. Being busy is great for a business and great at helping us feel like we are doing something of value, but it is a dangerous game when we rely on it for our self-worth. For many of us, being busy has become a fall-back for living the lives we truly love and need.
It was Socrates that said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life”. Being busy is isolating and lonely. Think about the last time a friend asked you to get together for coffee, or someone invited you to an event. Chance are you turned it down because there was something else you believed you needed to focus on first. While that may be necessary at times in our lives, if we are always choosing being busy over being around others, socializing, or laughing, it’s no wonder we are so stressed all the time. While scanning through some inspirational quotes one day online, I saw one that said “Busy is the new Happy” and it made me cringe. Why can’t “Happy” be the new happy?
I’m not saying that being busy is a terrible thing. Many of us love the feeling of being busy, myself included, but what I’ve decided is that I need to be more mindful about being busy. I choose to ask myself why I am taking on certain tasks. Volunteering to run a career coaching seminar for students means adding more things to my plate, but it lifts me up and makes me feel great. This is the kind of busy I can handle. Begrudgingly agreeing to do something for someone because you feel pressured or guilty saying “no”, now this is not okay for me. Sure, I don’t mind helping people out, but if it is at the cost of my mental or physical health, then the price is too high.
I’ve set an intention for myself to be more mindful about my schedule and how busy I am. I am challenging myself to not answer the question, “How are you?” with “Busy!”. I choose to focus on only the most important tasks. I vow to make time for “play” and stop apologizing for using my weekends to do nothing. I am giving myself permission to take on new challenges if they will positively benefit my life as well as turn down tasks that are going to cause more harm than good. I can’t promise that my life will never be busy, but I can promise to try to be more mindful about it, and that’s good enough for me.