How many times a week do you find yourself responding to the question “How are you?” with “Good! Busy, but good!”
For me, it’s almost every single time I’m asked the question. And it’s not that it’s my automatic, rote response. I am being sincere when I exclaim (or sometimes just state, matter-of-factly), that I am, indeed, a very busy person.
But, what does that mean exactly? Busy compared to what? Or whom? Isn’t it all kind of relative anyway? I wonder if the feeling of being busy is actually just a symptom of poor time management. I also wonder if we, as a culture, conflate activity and productivity? If we’re constantly doing things, filling our time with doing, even if we’re not accomplishing anything, can we call that busy?
Here’s the thing; somewhere along the way (I’m not sure when or how, but it’s been a progressive evolution), people have gradually lost time in their days. Days aren’t shorter, the last time I checked, there’s still 24 hours in each one. I think the loss, or feeling loss of time is partly that we work longer hours, we have longer commutes, we drive our kids everywhere, and go further afield as we navigate urban sprawl to get places. We pack our kids’ weeks with lessons and classes and play dates and birthday parties (which all, inexplicably to me, must be chaperoned by a parent), and spend an inordinate amount of time in the car, shuffling children to and fro.
For singles, especially in a big metropolis with lots to offer, we fill our time with work, undoubtedly, which often bleeds into our social lives – I have so many work friends! We log volunteer hours (which is a worthy use of time, in my opinion) and go on dates (for some of us, that takes up the time of – and feels as arduous as – a second job). And more to the point, we join groups, we chair committees, we write blogs (ha!), we plan weekend getaways with friends, and we go to events.
The point is, my friends, not that we fill our time with these wonderful, varied and worthy things which amount to us being busy, but that somewhere along the way, being busy itself became an accomplishment, a badge of honour, a bragging right, something of which to be proud, and to which to aspire.
That’s the thing I’m interested in – I don’t really care how you fill your time outside of your core life responsibilities, I just hope everyone is happy exploring the things and endeavors which sustain them and bring them joy. I’m interested in the psychology behind why we, as a whole, seem compelled to let everyone know how busy we are. It’s become a stick by which to measure our worthiness, I think. It’s subtle, and mostly subconscious, but it’s pervasive. It’s like we’ve all collectively agreed that we’re in a competition and whoever is the busiest gets the prize.
And I’m certainly guilty of it. Maybe it comes from a deep, dark place where my insecurities live, and I imbue all the things I do, the ways in which I like to keep busy, with (perhaps) undue importance, to subconsciously compensate for the fact that I don’t have a family (of my own) to keep me busy. I’ve never really thought about it in those terms before. Hmmm, methinks I might be on to something…
Or not. I mean, I’ve always been this way. I’ve always been a joiner, a doer. I like being a part of things, I like exploring parts of myself through social interactions, volunteering and educational pursuits, and I’m not particularly fond of routine. My mom always tells me “you’d be bored if you weren’t busy” and she’s probably right. And boredom, for me, as it turns out is perilous to my mental health. I know that now. My mom is always worried that I’m burning the candle at both ends though, and she signs off almost every conversation we have on the phone by telling me to eat something, go to bed early and not to work too hard. I love it, it’s endearing, because what she’s really saying is “I love you,” so I always answer, “yes mom, I will, you’re right I should, and I’ll try not to.”
I don’t think I’m going to stop keeping myself busy. It’s just who I am, and what fuels me and brings me joy. I think I will, however, try to be a bit more conscious of how much of my worth I’m gleaning from how busy I am. When people ask me how I am, I’m going to start answering the question a bit more genuinely, and resist the urge to declare with pride all the things I have going on in my life, because that’s not really an answer, is it?
I’m off to New York City tomorrow for a few days to sing at Carnegie Hall with my choir. I’m very excited. A few of my best friends are coming along for the trip (and to support me, of course), and we have some touristy things planned. But, I’m going to focus on enjoying myself, being in the moment, and relishing this once in a lifetime opportunity to sing on that stage under the baton of John Rutter. I’m going to slow down, take it all in, and not for one second, worry about how many things I can pack into the days I’ll be there. I don’t want this trip to be a whirlwind, I want to savour it, and for once in my life, not be busy.