Oh, what frantic lives we lead

“I’m busy.” “SO busy.” “Crazy busy.” How often have you heard that? If you’re honest, care to admit how often those words have come out of your mouth? I know I’m guilty. It’s become a common, signature response to any inquiry as to the state of someone’s life these days. Seems everyone’s so caught up in their own hectic hustle that they’re just too busy for, well, anyone or anything. It’s become something of an acceptable cop-out in modern relationships – both business and personal – to bail on a commitment because one is “too busy”. It’s made to sound like a complaint, but usually it’s a way of communicating how full and productive our lives are. As if being busy is a good problem to have. Well, I’m calling bullshit.

Busy manA colleague and friend of mine, Lesli, recently posted a Facebook meme that stopped me in my scrolling tracks. It read, Stop the glorification of busy.” I responded with this pithy observation, quoting one (unknown but nevertheless shrewd) Donna Lynn Hope: “Busy doesn’t mean better. I have never envied a busy person – the one who likes to point out their busy lives to others.” A few more of Lesli’s FB friends chimed in similarly. Seems she struck a resonant chord by underscoring this creeping trend.

Tim Kreider in his much-cited New York Times essay, The Busy Trap, posits that we brag about our frantic lives to feel important. He writes, “Though we constantly complain about our lack of free time, it’s essentially all our fault. Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

How did it come to this, where being busy is more of a boast than a confession? On the surface, it would seem that we should have more leisure time than ever. Certainly heaps more than our forebears, who couldn’t count on aid from the labour-saving technologies and appliances we enjoy today, ostensibly making our lives easier. I mean really, shouldn’t the upshot of all these gizmos be thumb-twiddling, as we ponder what we’ll do with all these extra hours?

Hooey! The reality is far different. Despite the promise of these time-saving devices, we’ve been conned people, hopelessly duped. The allure of the world wide web seduces. Emails and text messages pour in. We react to their incessant pings like a kid responding to the tuneful approach of ice cream truck, the distraction of messages making us feel wanted and important. Then we busy ourselves diving down the rabbit holes of these disconnected requests, focus now diverted. Staying productive gives us a sense of worth and purpose where we equate output with our personal value.

jugglerOf course, the distractions of technology are not the only reason we’re ensnared in the busy trap. We have businesses to run, groceries to buy, fitness classes to attend and bills to pay. Parents are probably the most legitimately busy people around. Between meal preparation, helping with homework, taxiing their children to and from multiple activities, and a kajillion other responsibilities, there’s little down time. I can’t help feeling though, that a lot of our busyness is self-imposed with work and other obligations we’ve taken on voluntarily. While not dismissing people’s altruistic motivations for volunteer work and parents’ desire to ensure their progeny are exposed to a panoply of activities, I wonder if the drive for perpetual motion and productivity keeps us from being fully present with those we care about the most.

Busy is a choice and Kreider reminds us “life is too short to be busy.” I agree. Lately, I’ve been conscious of wanting to slow down and spend more time with the people I love, engaging in conversations that unfold slowly where we share matters of head and heart. I want to pursue the things that fill me with joy and happiness. With more of my life over my shoulder than in front, it’s high time to reflect on what’s really important.

fitz in denim

Wee Fitz in denim-palooza!

I want to just, you know… be. Make the choices that fill my daily 24 hours with more meaning than regret. Where spending a weekend curled up in the La-Z-Boy (yes, we have one) with a good book, tea and peanut butter toast is awesomeness. Where bike riding along the False Creek seawall just to feel the ocean air and be among a gaggle of camera-hawking tourists gob-smacked by our gorgeous city is amaze-balls. Where the wonderful therapy of just writing (like this blog) is the bee’s knees – and elbows. And most importantly… where blowing raspberries on my grandson’s tummy and listening to his gleeful shrieks is the zenith of bliss.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. For sure my blogs take time to read (and will never be confused with a tweet). Because we can only control what comes out of our own mouths and not others’, next time you find yourself saying, “I’m so busy”, take notice. Then, ask yourself what’s really going on for you? Are you filling your life with busyness by choice and if so, how is it serving you?

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon

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4 Comments on “Oh, what frantic lives we lead

  1. Yes, Yes, Yes! I haven’t seen Lesli’s post but yours sure resonates with me! When others go on about how “busy” they are, I can’t help but roll my eyes. We all have choices, people! In our family, we’ve made the conscious choice to cram those kids’ activities and errands into the weekdays, protecting our weekends for unscheduled downtime together as a family. Yes, the weekdays are hectic, but we have two precious free days a week to spend as we please.

    Case in point: for several months, I was on my mother-in-law’s case to come to the cabin with us for a weekend and she always had a reason not to join us. Finally, I said to her, “If I told you I needed you to come to help with the kids, you wouldn’t hesitate to accept the invitation.” She agreed. My mother-in-law and her siblings were raised to work, work, work and they all go on about how busy they are (so she would jump at the chance to come to Pender under the guise of “working”!). I said to her, “Why should you feel guilty about relaxing with your family and enjoying one another’s company? Isn’t that the whole point of life?!” …..She came to the cabin 😉

    Thanks for the post, Tracey. It sure resonated with me.

  2. Thank you for this article Tracey. It reminds me of my former self (and sometimes my present self).


  3. Thanks Tracey. I enjoyed my first blog as a subscriber. I know when someone simply tells me they are “too busy”, for right or wrong, I kind of translate that to “I don’t want to”. Now if someone tells me they can’t for a specific reason, I tend to cut them more slack ( it doesn’t take much to win me over). Thanks again. Looking forward to your next post.