Work/Life Balance

Why Being Busy Feels So Good Despite Us Knowing How Bad It Can Be

By | Monday, September 10, 2018

I recently had my simple, slow living values challenged, at an airport of all places. I was traveling for a work event with a colleague. While waiting (in Airport Limbo) to board our flight, I remarked how quiet things had been lately in the office. My colleague, almost immediately, launched into an explanation of how, even though things had been quiet, they were still very busy doing “x: thing, or following up on “y” thing. Feeling defensive, I felt compelled to respond with all the things I’d been filling my days with, but I bit my tongue. I realized, at that moment, that was the busy trap staring me right in the face.

I can’t pretend to know why my colleague decided to share how they were still super busy, and I’m not saying they weren’t busy. But, I know my gut reaction for defensiveness is symptomatic of a bigger, societal issue. We think that to be taken seriously, we always need to be doing something – planning, meeting, traveling, innovating, emailing, etc. Our perceived level of professional success is directly related to how busy we are. I first came across this attitude in an academic environment where the “publish or perish” idea reigns supreme. This attitude is one that never sat right with me. Especially in an academic environment, where you are researching important issues of various kinds, why would it be beneficial to publish something just to say you did? Perhaps even before the research was fully completed, or it wasn’t your best work — you still end up doing it because you needed to “keep up.” That is the opposite of innovation. That cannot be a culture that creates sustainable solutions to the world’s problems (although, what do I know, I’m not in academia anymore).

I refuse to take part in the glorification of busy. Here’s the thing, everyone is busy. Everyone has work deadlines, family responsibilities, and social commitments to manage every month. That’s kind of how we’re expected to operate these days. No one’s level of busy is more important or more worthy than anyone else’s. When people ask how we are, we say, “Oh my gosh, I am so busy.” And that is taken at face value as a positive. If someone answered “you know, I’ve got the right amount on my plate right now and it feels great,” what would you think about that person? You’d judge them for not being “busy” (i.e. successful) enough — I know that’s what I do (I’m working on that). I am deeply grateful for all the things I have in my life that do keep me busy (aka my job and the blog). But, that doesn’t mean I need to hold up my busyness on a pedestal for other people to “admire.” I certainly don’t admire other people’s busyness. Now, if someone tells me how busy they are, I try to make a point of asking them, “are you ok? How are you handling that? Is there anything you can get off your plate for right now?”

It feels good to be busy. The other part of the glorification of busy is that, at least sometimes, it feels good to be busy. When we have a busy event at work, it feels great to rush around trying to get things done. It feels good when the event goes well, it feels good to part of a team environment that collectively accomplished something. Even if that something happened to make us run around like chickens with our heads cut off. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with actually being busy. Sometimes, that’s required. Being busy becomes a problem when we wear it as a badge of honor. Like it somehow makes us superior to others who are not as busy. We use it to justify things like “I’m too busy to sleep, work out, see my family, take care of myself.” But, it’s seen as ok because we equate being busy with being a productive (and therefore worthy) member of society. Or at least, that’s the expectation.

In the conversation I had with my colleague, I was trying to justify my worthiness. “No, really, I’m busy. These are all the things I’m working on right now. I’m worth paying attention to.” That’s not a particularly pleasant feeling — feeling like you have to justify your worthiness based on how busy you are (or are not). How do we stop praying at the altar of busy? If you’re the kind of person who is able to manage being busy all the time in a healthy, sustainable way, I applaud you. Unfortunately, I am not that person. I can be productively busy when it is called for. But, it is not a habit I can sustain indefinitely. My body and my brain won’t let me.

I’ll just come out and say it, being busy doesn’t make you a better person. It just doesn’t. In fact, most of the people I know who are devoted to being busy all the time, are mostly jerks. That’s not the kind of person I want to be. When I start to notice I’ve been high off the adrenaline of being busy for a certain period of time, I know I need to step back and (sometimes literally) take a deep breath. Even though it feels good to be busy sometimes (and it really does), it feels even better to slow down.

Do you love being busy? How do you integrate slow into your daily life? Let me know in the comments!

Tiny Ambitions is the online space where blogger Britt shares her tiny, but wonderful, life. Britt is a minimalist, a simple living advocate, and a tiny house enthusiast.

Image via Unsplash 


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