I want you to know that it’s okay if you’re not always busy.
If I’m being completely honest with you, my ultimate goal in life is to not be busy. I want a “simple life.” One where I don’t feel like I’m always bouncing from task to task, place to place, person to person, cramming as much as I can into each and every day. I want to work as little as I can for maximum output in order to have as much free time as possible. That’s the end goal. Free time means more time to do exactly what fuels my soul, without worrying about getting enough done to pay the bills. It means time to, dare I say, relax. It means time to spend with family, friends, and other loved ones. Time to make more memories and just enjoy life.
Today’s world, sadly, is often a comparison game. The latest unspoken competition seems to be…Who is the busiest of them all?
Busy, busy, busy. Many of us are running a million miles a minute. Working multiple jobs (or just one job that feels like 10 different ones), going to school, setting aside time for kids and significant others and family and friends, trying to find time to cook and clean and exercise and wash our hair. So many things to do, so little time. And somehow, over time, being insanely busy became glorified.
I have fallen into “the busy trap” throughout my entire life. When you’re young, you’re busy with school, sports, homework, spending time with friends, clubs, and any other extracurriculars you can squeeze in. As you get older, you’re still busy with school, friends, and extracurriculars, but now you have work and adult responsibilities on your plate as well. Finally, you get older, but then work takes over, adult responsibilities grow, and it can sometimes seem almost impossible to fit in a social life. Self-care seems to always be put on the back burner.
Is there ever enough time in a day?
In addition to that, we’re overstimulated. I feel deeply overstimulated in today’s world of technology. If someone isn’t texting me, they’re emailing me or direct messaging me on social media. I don’t even have to be engaging with it, but I still see the notification or the little number next to “Inbox” or “Messages” quickly grow. There is always something happening on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. It’s a constant stream of communication and information that never ends. Unfortunately, it’s also become an addiction for many, even if they don’t realize it. People feel naked without their phones. They record everything interesting that happens so they can post it on social media, instead of just relishing in the immediate experience. They’re scrolling through their feeds when they’re in elevators, at street corners, and even out to eat with friends. Any time there is a pause, we fill it up. Our brains are as busy as our lives.
Let’s get back to the scheduling, though. I see it with myself, I see it with my family, I see it with my friends, and I see it with my clients. I feel as though everybody is doing too much, yet everybody always feels like they’re not doing enough. Even when people know they are doing too much, they still find ways to add things to their plate. Doing too much has become normalized and glorified. Sometimes it’s because of an expectation people put on themselves, but mostly it stems from comparing themselves to others. When we see our friend working 2 jobs and hanging out with friends on the weekends and still finding time to workout and cook and clean and be an amazing mother, we think, DAMN. If she can do all of that, I sure as hell should be able to do all of this. The truth is, though, that we don’t always know the full story. Is she really doing all of that? Is she doing it to the best of her ability? Is she happy doing all of that? Or does she secretly feel like she’s drowning in it all, and actually missing out on life?
Sometimes, if we’re not comparing, we’re just overexcited. We are, again, overstimulated, and we see all of the opportunities available to us. With technology, it’s all right in front of us, a constant temptation. We want to take this course now, and then we get offered the opportunity for this job, and then we get the chance to go to this event, and then another great job opens up (but don’t worry, it’s part-time), and then we got a really great deal on this group fitness class…the list goes on.
The competition around being busy is something I’ve always noticed, but it takes different forms during different times in our lives. In high school, people would ask each other how many extracurriculars they were doing – usually as a way to compare and see who would be a “better” college applicant. Because the more extracurriculars, the better – right? In college, it was a similar thing. How many clubs are you in? Do you have an internship as well? How many internships? It was an indirect way to compete for grad schools, but also for something greater than that. Something that I didn’t fully realize until I graduated and started working full-time.
It’s interesting to me how many people seem to measure success based on how busy they are. What’s the first thing people ask you? “What do you do?” “Oh, what’s that job like? What are the hours?” “Are you doing anything else?”
I don’t think people even realize that what they’re really asking about is how busy someone is. But they are. People want to know how many things are on other people’s plates, and then they compare it to how many things are on their own. Partially because they want to make themselves feel better about how many things they’re trying to juggle (“I hope I’m not the only one trying to balance 500 things…”) and justify it to themselves, and partially because they’re hoping they’re doing “more” than the other person, as a strange way of trying to prove themselves.
It seems to me that far too many people correlate doing more things with more success, but that is not always the case. Sure, there are many extremely busy people who also make millions of dollars – but is that even “success”? Many of those people aren’t happy, which is what I consider to be true success. But back to the financial aspect – there are many people who are extremely busy who make hardly any money at all. It goes both ways. There are also many people who are extremely busy and make hardly any money, but they are also extremely happy.
On the other hand, there are people who work hardly any hours, make a ton of money, and are unhappy. There are also people who work hardly any hours, make a ton of money, and are immensely happy. That last group of people is the group I would like to join.
Like I said, that’s my ultimate goal. “Work” minimally (as in, official work that makes me money), make enough money to support myself comfortably, have as much free time as possible to do things I want to do, and be incredibly happy.
Why is it that everyone buys into this myth that the harder you work and the busier you are, the better?
I don’t think we were put on this earth to work ourselves – mentally, emotionally, physically – to the bone. I refuse to believe that is the purpose of anyone’s life. So many of us do, though, and we continue the cycle. We feel guilty if we take things off of our plate, but where does that guilt really come from? Is it because we are doing something wrong? Or because we are uncomfortable with deviating from the societal norm?
I always have too much on my plate, and I am trying to work on changing that. People ask me what I do, and I list off everything, honestly slightly embarrassed – because that’s not the person I want to be longterm. It would be easier if I had one clear, defined role. Then, people usually respond with, “Oh, well I’m doing this, and this and this, and it’s so many hours, and…” I can tell they are trying to compete with me. But there is no competition to be had. I wish I had less things on my plate. Why does everyone want more?
It’s the same with the attitudes towards those of us who run our own businesses or work mostly from home. I’ve chatted about this with many of my friends who are entrepreneurs, and I also see people project this attitude onto many stay-at-home parents. People will make snide comments like, “Oh, well you must have a lot of free time since you work from home.” That’s accompanied with the unspoken, “Therefore, that’s not that very impressive. I’m doing more, and my life is harder.”
Sigh. First of all, I would like to argue that people who work from home are usually busier than people who do not, but that is an issue for a different post. I don’t have personal experience, but it seems like being a stay-at-home parent is a pretty damn hard job, and is incredibly time consuming. More than “enough.” Either way, I don’t think that being busy or feeling like “life is hard” should be a goal or a marker of success. When someone tells me how busy they are and tries to explain everything they are doing, I know they are trying to impress me. All I can think, though, is how sorry I am, because I know how exhausting it is to be that busy, and how much it takes away from other parts of your life. It’s not a good thing when different forms of work take up all of your time. Maybe some people really do enjoy being “go-go-go” all the time, but I don’t think that as many people truly enjoy that as say they do. I think that many believe that being extra busy is ideal, simply because of the way others will perceive them. They believe the idea that if someone can juggle all of the things, its impressive. I don’t necessarily think so, though.
As someone who always feels too busy, what’s impressive to me is when I meet someone who is not overly busy. The person who knows how to draw boundaries between work, play, and personal time impresses me. The person who has clearly optimized their input for maximum output, which has allowed them to not be busy. Having the ability to take vacations is not laziness, despite what many workaholics might say. Being able to take days off is a desired luxury, in my opinion.
Through my experiences working in an office setting, I realized that many employees would mask jealousy by putting others down. They would talk poorly about other people’s jobs, implying that if someone’s job wasn’t “hard,” A.K.A. excessively time-consuming, then that person was a slacker and wasn’t doing enough. Do you see how this is all a mind game? I truly think this mindset started because some high-powered executive sold his soul to his work, realized he was unhappy because he had no free time to cultivate real life relationships or create outside memories, and then started spreading the rumor that you have to work 24/7 in order to be successful and to make as much money as him. And if you weren’t doing that, then you sure as hell should be trying to be! Because that’s the only way to make a lot of money, and making a lot of money is the key to happiness, right?
So. Much. Wrong.
I realize now that I grew up with a twisted mindset. I grew up with two workaholic parents who were always busy. I grew up thinking that success was measured by how busy I was. If I had free time, I felt guilty. I felt like I should always be doing something, because if I had free time, that was unproductive. I grew up thinking that life was supposed to feel hard. If there wasn’t always a constant struggle going on or something to complain about, then something was off.
It took me a long time to realize that most of our society has glorified being busy, but not rightfully so. If you genuinely like to be really busy, more power to ya. I don’t think that should be everyone’s goal, though. I think many of us would be much better off if we did the exact opposite. The less busy we are, the more time we would have to work on our relationships with others and with ourselves – and I truly believe that is what life is really about. Our brains and our lives have become cluttered, but we don’t have to be. It seems that everyone is being pulled in 5 different directions, trying to juggle 10 different things. It’s the most common phrase I hear, and also the one I find myself saying too often. “I’m just really busy.”
This is something that I am trying to work on everyday. I do not want to feel perpetually busy. It’s a hard habit to break. My point with this one, though, is that it’s okay to make choices that will free up your time. Your success is not measured by how busy you are. I think it is far more impressive to meet someone who has figured out how to not fall into the busy trap – that means they figured out a way to support themselves with as few hours of “work” as possible (which takes smarts), and they also know how to balance a family and social life. That’s the most difficult thing to do, but it’s also the thing that the unhappy billionaire CEO doesn’t want you to realize, because it’s the one thing he can’t figure out. Misery loves company, and he wants you to believe that you need to follow his path. Even though it can be a dark, unfulfilling, spiral. The idea that success is measured by how busy you are? It’s a lie he invented to make himself feel better.
I encourage you to take a look at everything going on in your life, and to evaluate what brings you happiness. The things that don’t – why are they in your calendar? Do they need to be there, or are you doing things just to stay “busy”? Are you unconsciously measuring your self-worth based on how many things are on your plate? I believe that doing less, and doing it well, is much more powerful and impressive than doing more, running around like a chicken with its head cut off, always hoping for more time in a day. Like I said, it’s something I’m working on. I think it’s something we all need to work on.
More is not always better.
So, now I want to know – what’s your opinion on the glorification of being busy?