Are You Busy?


When I was in the midst of raising teenagers I noticed how often mothers would talk about how busy they were as if it was a a badge of honor. It would often become a competition. One mother would tell why she was so busy: car pools, dance lessons, soccer games, flute lessons, etc. The next mom would say something like, “I know what you mean”, and then begin to top the previous mom’s activities. The underlying message was that the more activities your kids were in, the better mother you were. We all should have a full and enriching life but when someone’s automatic response to “how are you?” is “busy” or “tired” to me that seems to imply a life out of control.

We often hear people tell us that they would like to sign up at FitMania but they are too busy to workout. And yet we have 400 people here and no one has ever said, “I had nothing to do today so I thought I would drop in and work out.” Everyone here has a full schedule and yet they make the time. I saw this quote today from Tribe of Mentors and I think it worth repeating:

Being busy is a choice

I have been very attracted to a piece by Tim Kreider called Lazy: A Manifesto. Here are a few excepts:

  • If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint.
  • It’s most often said by people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they are addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.
  • This busyness is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.
  • Yes, I know we’re all very busy, but what, exactly, is getting done? Are all those people running late for meetings and yelling on their cellphones stopping the spread of malaria or developing feasible alternatives to fossil fuels or making anything beautiful?
  • This 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. All this noise and rush and stress seem contrived to drown out or cover up some fear at the center of our lives.”… One of my correspondents suggests that what we’re all so afraid of is being left alone with ourselves.
  • Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence, or a vice: it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

How do we know we are too busy? If we are too busy to exercise, sleep well, eat well, have family meals, spend time with friends and have some time alone regularly, then we are truly too busy. While we are working that part out I suggest we all avoid the temptation to answer the question, “How are you?” with “busy” or “tired”.  It may not be as impressive as we hope. For myself I am gong to take this advice from Tim Kreider:

“Do less, better. That should be my mantra. What does matter? What will count for something worthwhile when I look back on it? What makes for a really good day? Focus on the quality of those things that will send me to bed each night with the satisfaction, not of having been busy, but of having spent my time wisely and joyfully.”

By Sherry Stirling Fernandez