I have a secret.
I’m addicted to being busy. And I hate it.
I’ve had many people tell me that me + busyness is like peanut butter and jam–that we go together, hand-in-hand. They say that I look so happy when I’m busy or that being busy is my thing.
They are correct in their superficial observation, but I know, on a deeper level, that this observation is also an incorrect assumption. (It’s not their fault though, I’ve believed and perpetuated this falsity for so long…)
Acknowledging Busyness = Like Barfing
If you know me personally, it’s probably hard to believe that I’ve cringed every single time (seriously, every time) that someone complimented me on how “happy” and “energized” I look when I’m busy.
No joke–my stomach does a nervous somersault EVERY. DAMN. TIME. My gut feels so knotted that I sometimes imagine myself physically detangling it and needing superhero-level strength to do so. I also imagine vomiting. That’s how visceral of a reaction I get when someone says that I look good and happy when busy. (Quite simply, YUCK.)
Now, if I step back and analyze that reaction, I see that it’s pretty damn unhealthy to imagine barfing and needing to be a superhero to undo such a simple and seemingly innocent observation.
Yet, I’ve rarely stopped to fully analyze this uncomfortable feeling until just yesterday evening when I was up until 4:00 AM writing this post.
Typically, instead of stopping to reflect on this particularly knotty and confusing feeling, I’ve just kept moving on and on, just like I think I should (the keyword here is should, which is no good).
Because somehow I’ve come to believe that progress doesn’t happen by doing nothing. And goals don’t get accomplished if you don’t have focus, if you don’t work hard, if you don’t do XYZ and 10 million other things x 10 million more. Blah, blah, blah.
Sure, there’s some truth to these positive reminders that help you accomplish things and be successful (in whatever way you define your own success), but I’ve also found them to be a seriously tangled and messy web that’s easy to get stuck in and hard to get out of.
If I’m being 100% honest with myself (and others), I have to come clean–I DON’T LIKE BEING BUSY. I HATE IT. I HATE IT SO MUCH.
Why My Life Is a Busy Ball of Hell
But I am busy. So fucking busy. ALL. THE. DAMN. TIME.
Because I’ve internalized so much BS–from society, from culture, from “success” stories I’ve heard, from what I’ve learned growing up, from what I’ve told myself, etc. etc.–that being busy is akin to a virtue.
That busyness is the way to success (and what kind of success? I have no f’ing idea).
That you cannot reach professional and personal fulfillment without being constantly busy doing something to get to the next level.
That you cannot be a “worthy” person if you aren’t doing super amazing things all the time (and, preferably, super amazing things that help others).
That you cannot reach the next whatever without pushing the needle just a little bit more, doing just a few more hours of this or that, etc. etc. etc.
A Slight Detour: Defining Busyness
Before I continue, I should define what I mean by busyness…
When I say busy, I mean packing almost every hour of your day with some sort of active activity. Active activity = writing a blog post, doing actual paid work, cooking, baking, cleaning, tackling various projects/assignments…essentially knocking of anything on your never-ending to-do list.
An active activity is different from a passive activity.
A passive activity would be anything that gives you deep relaxation and that you derive great pleasure from. For me, this would be reading a book or magazine, taking a bath, going for a walk, writing and creating for fun, and being still and just observing the wonders of the world around me.
- Active = things that keep you busy going toward some kind of defined, albeit arbitrary goal
- Passive = relaxation (i.e. no “real” goal that society at-large could easily define–and likely a “goal” that you (or others) might consciously or unconsciously shame yourself for doing because you should be doing that other active “goal”).
Back to: Why My Life Is a Busy Ball of Hell
And so, when I look at my own life, all I see is busy. Busy at 6 AM. Busy at 9 AM. Busy at 9:05 AM. Busy at 9:10 AM. Busy until I go to sleep too late at 1 AM and then wake up just five to six hours later. (Yep, super unhealthy.)
I’ve come face-to-face with the ugliness that is busyness before. For instance, when I’ve exhausted myself so much so that I’m snippy and unhappy around family and friends and I mistakenly blame it on something else (a job, a particular situation, someone else, my existential crisis of not knowing what to do with my life–more on this particular form of BS at a later time, etc.).
But really, my bad/lackluster mood and poor behavior is (often times) the result of being so damn tired because I am so damn busy doing ten million things all the time and holding myself up to super unrealistic expectations. My energy is completely sapped. I no longer feel alive in the way I often appear to be for the initial launch of my many projects and activities. What I’ve experienced time and time again is that this energy doesn’t last. And it’s not because I don’t want that energy to last; rather, it’s because I’m literally suffocating my time to death because I keep stuffing my days full with just one more thing.
And I’m sick and tired of it, this busyness. It ruins my life–rather, my enjoyment of life–way too often.
This busyness stems from a number of assumptions that I’ve held so firmly from years of social and (American) cultural input (I really have to learn to embrace my Croatian cultural input instead…so much more relaxed and balanced!).
Some of these assumptions (and my accompanying commentary–enjoy!) include the following:
- You should try your best on everything you do. This means doing it close to perfection and often, doing it better than others. (HA! Question for you–why do we always have to compete with others and compare ourselves to them, American/social culture? Because it’s BULLSHIT.)
- You should try to one up yourself to keep challenging yourself so that you grow. (But grow into what? A fucking flower? The strong, awe-worthy beanstalk from Jack and the Giant Beanstalk? Who the fuck knows…)
- You should always be working because “an idle mind is the Devil’s playground” and you can’t reach your potential or save the world or take care of your family or make the money you want (etc.) if you’re not working all the time. (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. (1) How do you–whoever you are (or even the Devil)–know what my full potential looks like? And (2) BULLSHIT.)
How I Broke-Down and Confronted the Busyness Bully
Just this weekend I came face-to-face with busyness again in all its ugliness.
I turned in an assignment (i.e. take-home exam) for a grad school class that was only 50% complete, which means that I’ll probably get a 50% (maybe less) as my grade for it (will I fail the whole class, though? Probably not, and so I’m letting it go…).
But why did I only do a horrifyingly 50% of my assignment? Because (1) I underestimated the time I would need to spend on it (and I underestimated my overall comprehension of the material) , and (2) my life has been split into so many different busy pieces that by the time I sat down to do the work, I was already exhausted and had difficulty doing simple math.
No bueno, as David would say.
So after I had a mini breakdown (I threw multiple books onto the floor and stormed away from my computer, so disgusted and frustrated with myself), I decided to work through my anger and everything else I was feeling instead of letting it consume me in shame and self-pity.
Thanks to this huge fail of a moment, what I realized was that I can’t go on living this way, in this constant state of busyness. (To be honest, this failure kinda saved my life, and I’m grateful for it. Insert heart emoji.)
- (1) I can’t actually get through all 20 items on my to-do list in just one weekend. It’s impossible (although I was close, somehow, until I quite literally failed my assignment, which derailed all my hopes and dreams of having a perfectly complete to-do list–HA!).
- And (2), I don’t even need to be doing most of what I have on my list anyways.
For instance, this blog. I want to have this blog because I want to write. But I don’t need to do it nor do I really need to stick to some kind of posting schedule that I’ve been trying to force upon myself simply because I know what you need to do to grow a blog following.
Yes, it’s great to know these best practices for work and commerce, but I’m not doing this blog for work or to make money or even to grow my audience. It’s just for fun. And it’s just for me (readers are an extra bonus–and I 100% appreciate you!).
My Come-Back-to-Reality-and-Stop-the-Busy-Train Lessons Learned
What I’ve also realized is that I really, truly HATE being busy–as I’ve always known, but have been afraid to acknowledge.
Because it means confronting the uncomfortable truth that I must learn to love and accept myself on my own, and that I’m worthy of love and belonging (to borrow Brene Brown’s words), even without having all the bells and whistles of projects, activities, and the like to cover-up (instead of deal with) my own self-criticism, self-consciousness, and lack of self-compassion.
Moreover, for many years, I’ve used busyness as a way to show how “successful” I am to the outside world, because, really, the outside world validates this path to success (and success in terms of $$$, power, and status, etc.) ALL the time–from corporate America to your parents and friends (and we–me, included–really need to stop this…).
For example, next time you see someone, like me, doing 10 million different projects, don’t say, “You are so amazing. I don’t know how you have time for all of this. I wish I could do that.”
- Because (1) you really don’t want to do what I’m doing because it’s insane and unhealthy.
- (2) I don’t actually have time for all of it; I’m drowning.
- (3) I need to learn to embrace that I am amazing no matter what, regardless of if my to-do list is full or not. I also need to learn not rely on other people’s compliments for validation of my own worth.
Again, it is no one’s fault for saying something like the above example, but it is probably better to congratulate people on accomplishing something they were working on (and really wanted to be working on) rather than congratulating them for doing lots of projects and, by extension, being busy trying to “do it all.”
The Infinite Wisdom of Luca Spaghetti
I’ve also used busyness as a way to show how “successful” I am to myself. I’ve held up my worth against this ridiculous and totally arbitrary measure of success, i.e. if I complete EVERYTHING on my crazy long self-created to-do list by this weekend, THEN I will deserve praise and relaxation.
In writing this, I can’t help but think of Luca Spaghetti from the Eat, Pray, Love movie summing up this silly (American) notion so nicely:
Luca Spaghetti: You feel guilty because you’re American. You don’t know how to enjoy yourself!.
Liz Gilbert: [looking a bit taken aback] I beg your pardon?
Luca Spaghetti: It’s true. Americans know entertainment, but don’t know pleasure.
. . .
Luca Spaghetti: . . . You want to know your problem? Americans! You work too hard. You get burned out. Then you come home and spend the whole weekend in your pajamas in front of the TV.
Liz Gilbert: That’s not far off, actually.
Luca Spaghetti: But you don’t know pleasure. You have to be told you’ve earned it. You see a commercial that says, “It’s Miller time”… and you say, “That’s right. Now I will go to buy a six-pack.” And drink the whole thing and wake up the next morning and you feel terrible. But an Italian doesn’t need to be told. He walks by a sign that says, “You deserve a break today,” and he says, “Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m planning on taking a break at noon…”
My Real Values vs. My Adopted Values
So, even though my real life values have nothing to do with optimizing my newsletter for my ideal readership or spending hours on a paper so that I get an A+ or working 60+ hours in a week to make extra bucks, I still somehow spend the majority (actually, all) of my time on this stuff. I mean, that’s crazy, isn’t it?!?!
What I truly value is quality time with family and friends and being creative and writing and above all, FREE TIME TO ENGAGE IN ALL OF THESE QUALITY, FLEETING, AND WONDERFUL THINGS.
Yet, I’ve continually deprived myself of free time so that I can keep climbing that ladder…that imaginary ladder to someone else’s version of success and fulfillment.
Don’t get me wrong–there are things I must certainly do, like clean, cook, do homework, make money, etc. BUT that doesn’t mean I should spend ALL of the time on these things. And it most certainly doesn’t mean that I should sacrifice my own health and sanity for these things either.
While I know this letting-go-of-busyness process will be very difficult, since it’s always hard to unlearn a long-held habit, I’ve decided to consciously try saying “no” to any external invitations or internal naggings that don’t align with what I really want to be doing with my time and life.
The Burning: A Liberation
And so, to celebrate this healthy step in the right direction, I decided to burn my 2018 goal list, which contained many things I enjoy (like cooking, reading, writing, etc.) but in a format that was way to social pressure-esque and prone to too much shaming if I didn’t get something done.
As I watched my 2018 goal list burn, I felt so much stress melt away and so much peace come rushing back into my life–the same peace I felt before I put pen to paper to create the list in the first place.
Here’s my liberation, proof in ashes:
In addition to this fiery celebration, I wrote a little 2018 Don’t Do List to empower myself to make healthy life, time, and priority choices. Because: “Hi, I’m Kristina. And I’m a busyaholic.”
To embracing la dolce vita like Luca Spaghetti,
P.S. Here’s a sample from my 2018 Don’t Do List:
- Stop trying to revamp your blog newsletter. Actually, better yet–stop making your blog newsletter completely because it’s just another thing on your to-do list you don’t need to actually do.
- Make whatever recipes you want each week. If you try something new, cool. If you don’t, fine. You’ll be fed. Your world will be just fine if you don’t reach your previously set goal of trying a new recipe every two weeks. Do what you can, and don’t beat yourself up.
- Don’t say yes to everyone and every invitation to do work, go out, volunteer, have brunch/coffee, etc. And don’t feel guilty for wanting to stay at home and read a book and drink hot chocolate by yourself.
- Speaking of reading, read whatever books you want, whenever you want. GoodReads is great–but don’t feel like you MUST reach the Reading Challenge goal you set because really, what you want most is to enjoy reading, not to win a fucking competition. (But keep on reading your one poem a day because that gives you so much joy it’s astounding.)
- Don’t try to make this blog anything more than what you enjoy (because if you enjoy it, likely others will enjoy its authenticity as well). You created this blog to kickstart writing for yourself again (not for work, not for fame, and not even for your lovely audience of friends). You did this for you. So keep doing it for you. Your friends will like and respect you no matter what.
P.S.S. Another dose of inspiration I stumbled upon today from one of my fav. travel bloggers:
Feature photo credit: Goal List Ashes / KP