Questioning the Cult of Busy

“How are you?”
“BUSY.”

It’s become the standard answer to the question.
Ah, yes. We’re busy. We’re all so very busy. We have so much going on. Things are CRAZY.

I’m not doubting that life tends to get hectic. Jobs and kids and pets and Instagram accounts. Yard work and work outs. Parents get medical procedures and laundry gets left in the washer.

We all have stuff.

But somehow, being “busy” seems have become a point of pride in our culture. Like, “I am a very important person because I only have time to sleep for five hours a night.”

That doesn’t make you important. You know what that makes you? A victim of advanced interrogation techniques.

I just had a book published. I did a book tour and media that consisted of things like twelve radio interviews in one day. I’m writing another book, I write two blogs, contribute to various online publications and I’m about to start teaching a writing class. I travel and give talks at schools and conferences. I volunteer at an animal shelter. I also run the website and social media for a local business in my town. And then, you know. I have my life.

So, I understand busy.

But this is a shift for me. Generally, my life is not that busy. I’ve intentionally made it that way. I say no to things that spread me too thin and require me to multi-task, because multi-tasking just means I do several things badly. For the past several years, I’ve just been working on my book. So, I was writing. I was walking the dog and doing yoga and cooking dinner. I read a lot.

But with this new avalanche of stuff, I’ve recently fallen into that trap that I hate – sighing and saying I’m BUSY. And enjoying the fact that people seem impressed by that.

But nothing in my life is better or more impressive or more fulfilling when I’m busy. It might be just the opposite.

So, instead of saying I’m SO busy, how about I talk about something real.

  • I’m excited about my new teaching gig.
  • I’m sad that my friend is moving out of town.
  • I’m madly in love with this new taco place I discovered.

That’s actually how I’m doing. That has some substance to it. And it doesn’t have the slimy aftertaste of a humble-brag.

What’s so important when life is…let’s call it… “full”…. is that I don’t get caught up in my own busyness. I don’t think that any of it defines me, or somehow makes my life more worthy than when I have time to take a nap on a Wednesday.

Why do we feel the need to fill every second of the day with stuff? Is it so we can feel we are important to the world? Like we need to earn some badge of worthiness? Like people will forget about us if we’re not everywhere at once? It is just the classic Fear Of Missing Out? If we step back, can we see that much of this busyness is self-imposed. We really can sit and read a book sometimes. The world will keep spinning all by itself.

I’d offer this: relaxing isn’t lazy when it’s planned.

We need time to relax and play as much as we need water. Play isn’t frivolous. We can be better at the important things with the kids and the job and the pets and the Instagram accounts – when we have taken the time for self care. Stillness is important. Reading the Pottery Barn catalogue in the bathtub is important. Sitting on the porch and talking about why there are so many caterpillars this year – is important.

Stressing out about making the perfect key lime bars with the hand-squeezed key limes for the pool party is not that important.

We can choose to set boundaries on things and tell people we are sorry but we just can’t take that new thing on. And we can be okay with the fact that we said no.

We can be *gasp* not that busy.

Because when we can create some space, we can actually be awake for our lives. We can be better for everything and everyone that we love.

Check out this New York Times article “The Busy Trap.” It’s long, and I know you are busy, but it’s a good read.

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331 thoughts on “Questioning the Cult of Busy

  1. I remember one girl who I used to be friends with who I found quite annoying in that sense. When she and I were on the phone once, she was talking about the things she planned to do and then said “I find that I’m a better person when I’m keeping myself busy.” I got irritated as it sounded pretentious and she wanted to show that being busy suited someone like her whereas other people can’t handle being busy because they’re not cool/smart/strong/sophisticated/interesting enough or they’re too “lazy” or some other dumb reason. It was clear that she was being boastful but was trying to pass it off casually. I told her “I think that applies to most people, not just to you.” She then tried to justify it by saying that some people can’t handle being busy, and I shot back by saying that it depends on too many factors to determine whether someone can “handle” being busy or not, such as whether or not they genuinely enjoy what they do, whether or not they’ve bitten off more than they can chew, their circumstances in life, like have they lost a loved one? Have they gone through a break-up? Is their boss being an asshat to them? etc. etc. and that it’s not about the amount of stuff you’re doing, but the quality of what you’re doing. She couldn’t say much to that. Being “busy” doesn’t make one superior to someone who may have more time on their hands. A lot of people are too immature to understand that. It’s like they’re trying to keep up appearances. I don’t give a toss what others think of me or what I do or whether they’re impressed or not. They can get stuffed.

  2. Nice way of saying what we’re all a bit to busy to process these days! In our house we sometimes wonder aloud if the planets have sped up or something, but we’re all too busy to do the math. ;-/ So true, though, that we glean a bit of self-importance from the plague of busy. I will begin to put your suggestion to work tonight, when my husband and I exchange a few words about how the day was (the usual answer, “Busy!”). Thanks…

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