Being “Busy”

I’m thinking of writing a short book on the concept of being “busy”. Its meaning, its over usage in American culture, and its reason for being a thorn in my side for many, many years. It’s not just me either that being overly busy affects. No, everybody I meet has a way of telling me they’re “busy” in one form or another. Can you relate? I’m sure you’re heard them before too:

“Things are just crazy right now.”
“I’m backed up with a lot of stuff.”
“My days are so hectic. I can’t even remember what day it is.”

If you were to unpack each of these sentences, you could deduce the following truths about the person or persons who gave you these statements: that life is out of of control for this person and they cannot foresee a time of rest in sight. Would that be at least semi-accurate? We’ve all felt some measure of chaos in our life – that’s for certain – so to hear this kind of response is not unheard of. In fact, I have probably given the same answers at one point or another.

Taking this idea a step further, when else might you hear these statements? Maybe after asking the person when their schedule is free? Or when they can “hang out” with you and others? Yes, I’m sure you have. If you read between the lines, you can deduce the following as well: this person does not have a good way of saying “yo, I just don’t have time for you right now.”

Ugh. I really get tired of hearing that excuse, personally. It really gets under my skin. And I’m sure it gets under other people’s skin too. Who likes being told that they’re unimportant? Or that they do not warrant the time or the effort from another person? Last I checked, nobody. But each party will smile, nod their heads, and come to some odd agreement that this exchange of pleasantries is quite alright.

Well, that kind of chatter just isn’t “alright” with me. I loathe it. I despise it. Heck, I don’t like hearing it. What’s the problem with just being honest with somebody else? What are we afraid of? Plenty of things, it seems. People are always more afraid than what they let on. And one of our biggest “afraid moments” is the fear of being discovered for a phony. Despite all the ranting about owning a busy life and a hectic schedule, we fear being uncovered as some poser. That our public image as a go-getter or a semi-important figure will be distorted by a few extra minutes put someplace else. So in order to keep that facade up, we hide our true selves beneath the most common (and detremental) of common phrases: “I’m just too busy for that.”

Ugh. I hate typing the phrase as it is!

But even in the midst of being “busy”, we must also be wary of the overcommitter. You know, the one person who claims that he or she can be at an event, at a specific time, but fails to be there nearly every turn of the bend. I’m sure you can think of a few in your own world. These people aren’t necessarily bad or inherently spiteful, they just feel the necessity to always be accommodating. But in doing so, they overcommit and they end up letting down somebody in the process. And when they do let another party down, it can become strikingly evident as to who falls where on their general list of priorities.

For me, I’ve done this quite a few times as well. I overcommit to a project or a gathering and within a short period of time, I realize the error of my ways. Unfortunately, it almost always comes too late in the game. And I’m done in.

But alas, there is hope for the “busy” person and the overcommitter: be honest. It’s just as simple as that. And yet, it’s also that difficult.

I was challenged by a buddy to try and go a week without telling a half-truth or a little white lie. I think I lasted about half a day until I was sunk. I hope that’s not overly shocking to anyone. Try doing that yourself and see how far you get. If you make it more than a day, then I would say congratulations. And if you can make it a whole week, then you’d make an even greater case study on the subject.

But what does this all mean? Are we all liars, cheats, and phonies? Well, not exactly. I’m referring to some very specific circumstances and so, I do not want this to be taken out of context. None of us want to be labeled as liars, cheats or phonies so why not try and be that 100%? Tough gig to run these days, I’ll admit, but think of the benefits. For example, no fear of exposure. In an angst-ridden world, wouldn’t that be a relief? No hiding away parts of ourselves in little black boxes, coveting the very things that make us feel weak or powerless. Instead, we wouldn’t have those boxes – we’d have treasures of other people’s lives. Instead of saying “I’m too busy”, we say, “I’d be interested in giving my time, but please understand that I have priorities too.” I sounded it out and it takes less than 2 extra breaths to work that all in there. That doesn’t sound too hard, now does it?

I’m sure that some folks may read this and say, “Whoa, who slighted you lately to inspire this post?” And that would be a perfectly reasonable question, so here’s my response: myself. For so many years, I’ve told myself that I’m “too busy” to really go after a career in writing. “There are so many things I need to do first”, I’d say. Or “I don’t think it’d be possible with the way my schedule works”. These, among other equally frustrating self-doubts, kept me anchored down, below the surface and without a means to come up for air and breathe. On that same note, I kept overcommitting myself. “I’ll tackle this project first and then I’ll get to what I really want to do” or “That event is just too much, I need at least a month of planning for that until I can get back to my passion.”

You can see how a few words of self-justification can keep a person fixated on the problem without ever having sight of the solution. Eventually, if we are able, we must break free of this mirage and set sail for better harbors. Not safer harbors, like the saying goes – just the sort of harbor that you’re meant to anchor down on. That’s what freeing one’s self of being “busy” looks like. You’ll always have things to keep you busy, but it should never be for so long that you forget what’s truly important or where you’r headed.

For me, that important thing was a pursuit of writing. Ironically, the things which kept me busy, that I thought were life-giving, kept me from being me. It’s an interesting revelation if you can ever get to that place of personal solace. Don’t get me wrong though. I certainly didn’t wake up one morning going “Wow, I see the light” and everything changed in tune, but I did have enough epiphanies to see my own truth: that what blocks our futures (what blocks our vision) are “busy” things. And our justifications for staying busy are merely the politically correct ways we say, “Hey, I’ll get to that later” or when it’s most convenient for me.

So what is yours then? How do you stay busy and moreover, how do you tell others that you are? That’s as good a question as any and could just be enough to write a short book about.

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