Why I Stopped Being Too Busy

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Wherever there is wi-fi, there are people inundated with too much. Too much information coming in, too much to do, too much to respond to, too much to process. Then there’s all the real life stuff, like earning a living, raising a family, and staying connected to friends. We live in a paradox, where we no longer spend our days gathering and preparing food to survive, yet our lives have become so full and complicated, it can overwhelm even the most steadfast among us. We are barely surviving. I am barely surviving.

Like everyone else with a family, mortgage, and career, I was too busy. In the last couple years, I also attended graduate school, published a book, ran a small business, remodeled a house… you get it. I was legitimately busy, but my busyness was not enough for me. Instead of focusing on the accomplishment of starting a business from scratch, I focused on the stress and shame that I wasn’t making enough money. In spite of the fact that I had a home-cooked meal on the table every night, and drove the kids hither and thither every afternoon to activities, I worried I wasn’t spending enough quality time with my kids. Even though I won awards, I felt I wasn’t successful enough in my career.

And guess what? I burned out. My body stopped working because I wouldn’t. My body and brain co-conspired to insist that I deal with my shit. It was time to really look at why I had to be so busy, and why accomplishing things felt so empty and meaningless to me.

During my peak busy years, I had been spending time around a narcissist used “busyness” as his excuse for not doing anything meaningful or engaging, and keep everyone else at  an arm’s distance. Missed a phone call? Too busy. Missed an important meeting? Too busy. Failed to respond? Too busy. In the same breath that this person used busyness as an excuse, he also used it as an example of how important and in-demand he was. He used the same excuse to the people he was blowing off elsewhere. But the real truth was, when he said he was busy, he was playing games on Facebook. Darn those little icons everyone can see when you forget to change your settings. To him, busyness meant he was somebody. He saw it as an achievement. Being around this person set my hypervigilance into hyperdrive. I’m sorry to admit I made far too many excuses for this person, and I picked up all the slack.

I see busyness as an ailment. I was raised by narcissists who could never be satisfied, and much of my anxiety centers around trying to prove myself to a straw man. My self-expectations are so high they are shockingly unrealistic, and sadly, sometimes I achieve them. My expectations of others are shockingly low, and sadly, they often fail to achieve them. As a result of childhood abuse, I set myself up for this form of self-sabotage. I can never do enough. I can never be enough. I must prove myself over, and over, in impossible ways, to some force who won’t even notice my effort.

When I hear someone use “I’m too busy” as an excuse, I wonder what it is they are hiding from. What I hear is they don’t think I am a priority. Even at my busiest, I was never too busy for certain people. We all have to own our choices. Instead of saying I am too busy for something, I am learning to be more honest. I am choosing to be present for the people and things I say yes to, and I am choosing to say a loud, clear NO to the people and things I choose not to deal with. Before I could do that,  I did a massive purge. I scaled back every obligation in my life, and asked myself if it was something I wanted to keep. I kept my husband and children, and almost everything else went away. I kept my desire to write, but let go of what that had to look like. I kept my desire to help others, but placed no obligation on my time or resources. For the sake of the people and things that truly matter to me, I made myself not busy.

As I clear more space, I am slowly choosing to add a few more things, and I am vetting them through this filter: Is this something that I love to do? Does it add value to my life? Will it bring me peace? Sometimes, the answers surprise me.


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