The holidays are, if nothing else, an excellent chance to practice your small talk. At annual get togethers with friends, family, family friends, and the like, the usual opening question goes something like, “So….How’ve you been?” Not a terribly original questions, and not one that is particularly easy to answer casually over cocktails, either. There is a fine line between saying too much or not enough, between bragging and humble bragging and uncomfortably downplaying your accomplishments, between giving the honest answer and giving the comfortable one. So I get why most people (myself included) tend to default to standard, simple responses. What I don’t get (or at least, what I don’t like) is the trending stock answer that goes something like, “Oh, I’m good. Busy, but good.”
Busy, but good. The standard reply for the modern age. It’s slightly more personal than the “Fine, thanks” you’d give to a passing stranger on the street, but not quite as vulnerable as the gory details you’d reveal to your best friend over the second bottle of wine. Perhaps most importantly, it lets people know that you’re okay – you are needed, wanted, and important, without having to sound like you’re too aware of it.
It’s just another example of how we have become a culture that glorifies busy. Advertisers push busy on us, using our busy-ness as an excuse to get us to buy food-like microwavable breakfast sandwiches and overnight tooth whiteners and just about anything with “on-the-go” in the description. Pinterest pushes busy on us, subconsciously instilling in us that any unscheduled time must be spent painting Bible verses on recycled doors or making custom frames for the sonograms of your future children or baking cakes filled with food-like products such as Skittles. Our friends push busy on us, filling their Facebook pages with pictures from their adventures in hiking or travel or party planning or pub crawling and unconsciously (or maybe even consciously) daring us to compete with their awesome, activity-filled lives. And of course our careers push busy on us, encouraging us to do whatever it takes to reach the next income bracket or climb a little higher on the leadership ladder.
I will admit to glorifying busy more often than I would like. I fill my time with opportunity after opportunity – career, social, or otherwise – and at times even fill my social media pages and conversations with references to my particular brand of busy – intentionally or unintentionally. I give into the idea that busy = important, and I, like everyone, want to feel like I matter.
I’m getting tired of busy though, both being busy and talking about it. I work 5 jobs. Five. As I’ve mentioned before, this is not always a bad thing. It provides me with a level of financial security that has allowed me to build a career independent of any one employer. I have carved out a good living for myself, doing what I love – and that is a true, true blessing. A good living, however, is different than a good life, and with the blessing of such an interesting career comes a special strain of busy.
The kind of busy that comes with having 6 email addresses, all of which need to be check more than once daily.
The kind of busy that comes with having to plan dinner with friends months in advance, and then having to cancel last minute because one of your stress-induced migraines pops up unexpectedly.
The kind of busy that comes with hearing the same NPR news stories 3 or 4 times in a day because you’ve spent nearly that many hours in the car traveling from job to job.
The kind of busy that comes with always feeling like you are neglecting or half-assing something because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything well.
For better or for worse, I’ve reached the point in my life where ambition alone isn’t enough to fuel such a crazy lifestyle. There are many, many things I love about the life I lead, most prominent among them the teachers, students, and dancers I get to work with. There are many, many more things I want to accomplish in my career, and being relatively impatient with myself, I want to have accomplished them yesterday. Working in so many diverse sectors of the dance community has allowed me to grow tremendously in the last few years. But I am tired of wearing busy as a badge of honor.
This year, I am making just one resolution: To stop glorifying busy.This doesn’t necessarily mean I will do less, because that’s not necessarily an option right now, but I will change how I think about and talk about how I spend my time. This is an ambitious resolution, so I want to break it down a little bit to make it more manageable:
- I will keep a paper calendar. Yes, paper – a real, old-fashioned day planner. It has become all too easy to transfer tasks and events from email to phone, to set the event to repeat infinitely, and let the digital busy add up without being aware of its impact in real life. Keeping a paper calendar might very well help me to better track and monitor my obligations. After all, it is something of a commitment to write something down – and as a bonus you get that awesome, unbeatable satisfaction of actually crossing finished items off your list!
- I will not use BUSY as an excuse. It is so easy, particularly during the rough weeks when evening performances, formal assessments, and professional obligations seem to collide, to let busy cover over all nature of sins. “I’m busy – I’ll just grab some McDonald’s for dinner.” “I’m busy – I should have an extra glass of wine to relax tonight.” “I’m busy – I can skip yoga, or church, or calling my mom, or something else that might seem like a luxury at the time but actually does a lot of soothe the soul so that it can take on the busy still to come.”
- I will say NO. This is a tough one for me. A while back, I wrote about the importance of saying yes to new artistic and creative endeavors and other things that scared me. This mantra has paid off in incredible ways. I simply would not be living the life I lead had I not learned to say yes to so many exciting, if slightly scary, opportunities. At the same time, however, I am still (a year later) learning to be discerning with my time and energy, and how to set appropriate boundaries for myself and my sanity. In 2015, I hope to better distinguish between what needs to get done, what I want to do, what makes financial sense to do, and what I feel obligated to do to make other people happy. The more carefully I can consider my motives for saying yes, the more likely I will be to take on only what is truly necessary.
- I will spare other people my BUSY. I will refrain from that aforementioned all-to-easy reply and try to keep more positivity in my interactions with others, in person and online. I’ll try to talk about books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen, current events or funny things my students do or something I’m proud of – anything but the “B” word. I’ll try to engage in conversation that goes beyond the busy and acknowledge the fullness of ours lives outside of our hectic schedules and massive to-do lists.
- I will simplify. This is, perhaps, the hardest task of all – discerning what I truly want and need and living accordingly. One of the things I hate most about busy is that it takes me away from valued-centered living – the kind of life that is congruent with who you want to be, not just who you have time to be. The person I want to be gardens and sews her own clothes and writes letters to friends and meditates prayerfully and volunteers at the local food pantry. The person I am now drives too much and goes to too many restaurants and forgets to Facebook people on their birthdays and can’t seem to remember to drop her can good donations off at church. Can I work a little less and get by with less financially? Can I steal a little bit of time from the obligations and give it to the things that bring me joy? Can I set better boundaries for myself, my energy, and my time? These are questions I look forward to exploring in the coming year!
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