I bet you’re busy right now. Tying to read this blog post, the next thing in your social media news feed, and your to-do list. We’re all very busy, aren’t we? Our culture is somewhat obsessed with being busy. We rush from one thing to the next, our calendars completely full or overbooked. Common statements I hear from people are: “I don’t have time,” “Things are crazy busy,” or, “I’ll get back to you when things are less chaotic.”
Of course, most people never find the time; things never get less busy or less chaotic. Why? Because busyness is a choice. I know, I know… You’re sitting there saying, “That’s not true. I have commitments, obligations, and lots of things that need to be done!” I’m sure you do. I do too. And, we chose each one of them. We are choosing to be busy? Why?
Fear. Fear keeps us overly busy. I speak from experience. I spent most of my adult life refusing to slow down, desperate to have every second on my calendar booked, running fast and furious. I feared stopping. The busier we are, the less likely whatever we fear can catch us. We keep moving, believing we’re controlling what we fear. As long as we’re busy, we don’t have time to think about or feel what is propelling our busyness (fear of loss, failure, losing control, rejection, uncertainty, etc.).
That was me. I was constantly busy. I wouldn’t let myself stop because if I stopped long enough, my true feelings might bubble to the surface. Instead, I’d always find something else to fill any space. I believed if I slowed down I’d lose, fail, or lose control. I didn’t realize it until I experienced a year of such great loss that I had no choice but to slow down. The losses and emotions I so desperately feared happened, despite my attempts to keep busy enough to prevent that. The experience didn’t just slow me down, it stopped me dead in my tracks. For once I wasn’t so busy, but not by choice.
Growing up I was surrounded by busyness. I believed that my worthiness was attached to my productivity and how much I accomplished. I also experienced a traumatic event as a child, which exacerbated my fear of “not doing enough”. I watched my family fall apart after my parents got divorced and my young mind believed that I could actually keep everything together. I believed if I took enough action and took care of everything, I could keep things from falling apart and prevent the loss of my family unit. It didn’t work. No matter how much action I took, my parents still divorced and the safety of my family unit disappeared.
Despite the fact that I couldn’t control that loss with all my “doing”, I still believed that if I took enough action I could prevent loss and failure. I also believed I could never “do enough” because, as I experienced when my parents divorced, all the effort in the world cannot control those life events that are beyond our control. No matter how much we “do”, things will be lost: jobs, relationships, material possessions. Nothing stays the same and a certain amount of loss is inevitable.
To avoid that reality, I spent 30 years being excessively busy. Then two years ago I lost my father and my dog, two weeks apart, after watching them both suffer from horrific cancers. I kept very busy during that time too. I tried to keep everything in control and keep busy enough to avoid the possibility of losing them. My attempts were futile. They lost their battles to cancer. It didn’t matter how fast I moved or how much action I took; I couldn’t stop the losses or the pain. That pain knocked me down. It forced me to stop and opened my eyes to my choice to always be busy. I was face to face with my lifelong fear of “not doing enough.” I realized there are never enough appointments on your calendar to help you avoid the inevitable pain that comes from experiencing loss.
I share this because busy is normal in our culture. People don’t question why you’re so busy. They question if you’re not busy. We glorify being busy. Busy people are important and making things happen, right? Maybe not. Maybe we’re all just scared of what will happen or what we will have to face or feel if we slow down.
After going through my journey to overcome the fear of not being busy I now actively create open space on my calendar. Now if I don’t have open time I start to feel panicky (as I used to feel when I saw open calendar time). You might say I’ve swung too far the other way but I live a much more peaceful life. You might not want to stop long enough to ask yourself these questions about why you’re choosing to be busy all the time or to hear the answers. I get it. I didn’t either until I was forced to by the losses and pan I ran into. I don’t advocate waiting for that to happen but I do advocate you contemplating your need for busyness before something stops you. Maybe you like busyness? I did and still like it when it’s fueled by things I’m passionate about versus fueled by fear.
Truth is, what’s going to happen will happen regardless of whether we slow down. So, the next time you find yourself overwhelmed by how full your schedule is or by the fact that you don’t have enough time to sleep, remember you always have the choice to do things differently. As we stop choosing the path of busyness, we become much more present to the beauty of life. Give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.
This blog was originally posted on The Huffington Post on September 20, 2016.