When I moved back to Australia about 7 years ago lots of kind, well-meaning acquaintances would greet me with: “Hi Sal, how are you? Are you busy?” When I answered that I was well, thank you, and no – not busy, my questioner was clearly made uncomfortable or slightly embarrassed.
I pondered this quite a lot at the time.
Why did a lack of busy-ness make people uncomfortable? At the time I wondered whether it was the attitude born of a farming background. Most people sharing my farming roots grew up feeling like they could never stop and rest. As a farmer, there’s always something that needs to be done. It’s a way of life, not a job. And a certain sense of guilt and shame – laziness, perhaps - seemed to be associated with a lack of busy-ness.
I was a voracious reader as a kid, and I remember my mother guarding that space for me. She encouraged it and valued it – just as my parents did music. But others would come in from working outside and ask me, as I read: “Why don’t you do something?”, as though reading wasn’t an activity at all, and certainly not a worthwhile pastime!
Value was generally placed on being physically active, not mentally active, and the idea that I was lazy took a long time for me to shake. Before I shook it off it’s like I was living life busy busy busy, in order to prove I wasn’t lazy. It was exhausting.
SELF-IMPORTANCE, GUILT, RESPONSIBILITY
Of course, now I recognize that busy-ness guilt isn’t just a farming affliction. It’s a part of the fabric of our society. Being constantly busy gives many of us a sense of importance, as though we’re not important enough, just by being. It gives many of us the sense that we’re proving our value - projecting, as part of our persona, values that are prized in society – hard-working, focused, being in-demand, successful, important… Maybe there’s an underlying feeling that if we’re really really busy and work really really hard, then if we fail, it’s not our fault. We did everything we could. We have nothing to feel guilty about. Oh phew – I’m not responsible…
So the value we place on busy-ness is fueled by fear, then. Do you agree? Do you relate to any of the scenarios above?
Don’t get me wrong – having a strong work ethic and ability to focus etc. are great characteristics to have, and can bring us great satisfaction and sense of achievement. There’s nothing wrong with that. And it’s great having interests and living a rich, full life. That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s putting busy-ness itself on a pedestal that’s fear-fueled and destructive.
Take the corporate executive who comes to me anxious or depressed, who feels pressure to put in unreasonable hours almost as a show. Sometimes these clients stay at their desks way beyond the point of efficiency and what’s physically and mentally healthy for them. Why? To look busy? To give a show of their commitment? At what cost?
Take the business owner who never stops, who never gives themselves space for reflection and creativity, till life becomes a burdensome grind.
Take the compulsive personal developer, who reads and reads and listens and listens, but never gives themselves time to absorb and consider what they’ve read.
Or the stay-at-home parent who feels guilty for putting their feet up during their 13 or 14 hour work day, looking after their home and family.
REALIGN WITH YOUR OWN COMPASS
For our own health, happiness, sense of joy and freedom, autonomy, creativity, calm, and in the name of self-respect, we need to stop caving to these perceived outward pressures. We need to honour ourselves and realign with our own compass – not the compass we perceive to be society’s.
Let’s face it – there will always be more work to be done. There will always be more jobs, tasks, errands to run, people to call. The project you’ve been working on could always be more perfect… Life’s like that. That stuff never stops, so don’t keep going and going, waiting for it to stop for you.
Be the one who leaves work when the work is done or the mind is too tired.
Be the business-owner who takes the lid off their own internal pressure-cooker, stops and smells the roses.
Be the stay-at-home parent who honours themselves and understands the importance of ‘me’ time.
Be the person who evolves themselves with discrimination, intention and purpose.
Those of you reading this who follow me on social media will know that Wallace D Wattles is one of my favourite wise guys. I’d like to leave you with his words:
“Do, every day, ALL that can be done that day.
There is, however, a limitation or qualification of the above that you must take into account.
You are not to overwork, nor to rush blindly into your business in the effort to do the greatest possible number of things in the shortest possible time.
You are not to try to do tomorrow’s work today, nor to do a week’s work in a day.
It is really not the number of things you do, but the EFFICIENCY of each separate action that counts… [author’s capitalisation and italics, in every case]
… every efficient act is a success in itself, and if every act of your life is an efficient one, your whole life MUST be a success.
The cause of failure is doing too many things in an inefficient manner, and not doing enough things in an efficient manner.
Every act can be made strong and efficient by holding your vision while you are doing it, and putting the whole power of your FAITH and PURPOSE into it.”
Be mindful. Be aware. Are you living according to your own values, or someone else’s? Set sail according to your own compass, and reject busy for busy-ness sake. Being busy is not a gauge for how important you are. You’re important simply by being.
So, it’s time to come back to yourself. Does life feel a little more easeful now?