Okay, time for a little honesty here. When was the last time you complained about being busy—as in, I am soooo busy I can’t even think, or I am soooo busy I can’t do ____. Now, and here’s where the honesty part comes in—did you feel a little bit proud of your busyness. Doesn’t our busyness on some level reflect our competence? Our importance? Maybe even—gulp–our value? Rob Bell, as he so often does, said it best: “Busy is a drug that a lot of people are addicted to.” Yep, been there and have the t-shirt to prove it.
A number of years ago I was out to dinner with a group of friends. The conversation soon took on the feeling of one-upsmanship. Each person started by saying “I am sooo busy”, with the number of “o’s” in “so” increasing with each successive friend. All of a sudden it hit me—if this is a competition I’ve won. I’ve got four little kids, work part time in a large law firm, and teach part time at a law school. Yep, no doubt about it, based on any objective standard, at least within this group, I’ve won—but what the heck have I actually won, and why would anyone in their right mind want to win this contest. Winning felt a lot like losing. When it came my turn to complain about my all-important busyness, I turned the conversation to shoes.
Egging Me On
I chose this life, but somehow it felt like it was controlling me. The funny thing is that it feels like “society” is egging us on, rather than condemning our over-involvement. Being overly busy is a badge of success. Dawn is so competent; look at how much she does. Dawn is the queen of multi-tasking. Let’s ask Dawn to be involved because she can get things done. Talk about feeding my ego… and I was gobbling it up.
Who’s in Charge Here Anyway?
As I looked at my life, I felt out of control with no one to blame but myself. I was the one who kept adding things to my schedule. I was the one who worried that my kids needed to be in Chinese lessons, cooking school, tennis, etiquette classes. (Actually, they really do need the etiquette classes.) I was the one who let guilt interfere with my ability to say no. No one else was responsible—only me.
Not immediately, but slowly by fits and starts, I started to try to lose this contest by simplifying my life and actively trying to be less busy. I limited my activities, and I limited my kids’ activities. It was hard because each of my activities fed a part of me, and I missed them when I cut them out. I love to entertain, but entertaining added to my busyness. I loved going out with friends, but doing so added to my busyness. I liked volunteering, but… you see the pattern.
It’s a Balancing Act
I play the game Temple Run 2 on my phone where you control a runner in an obstacle course by tilting the screen. Tilt too far to the right, and the runner falls off the cliff. Tilt too far to the left, and he runs into a wall and gets eaten by the monster chasing him. (Trust me, it’s more fun than it sounds.) My life at times feels a little like this game. It’s a balancing act between over-involvement and self-care. Some activities which add to my overall busyness also give me great pleasure and belong in my life. Other activities give me pleasure, but when weighed on the scale of priorities vs. enjoyment, need to wait until later in my life. Still other activities, I can do occasionally in moderation.
For Everything There is a Season
What helped me was to realize that my life has seasons. Our kids are young for only a small fraction of our life. That is easy to say, but often hard to believe when you’re in the thick of it. My kids are older now, and I find I’m entering a new season of my life that has room for more outside activities and even more busyness. The key, I think, is being intentional. I have more time, but I want to carefully decide what to let in and what just contributes to busyness. And this time around I’m trying very hard to keep my ego out of it.
OK, tell me that I’m not the only one whose life at times has been out of control with no one to blame but myself and my ego. Have you intentionally cut back?
Image credit: skreened.com