Ever since I got my driver’s license and could get around on my own, I have been busy. In high school, I was busy with school, an internship and a part-time job. In college, I was busy with writing for my school paper, working at a clothing store and taking classes. And after graduating, I was busy with working a full-time job, babysitting for extra income and attending plays and writing reviews. So yes, I have been pretty busy.
Until recently, I have had a love/hate relationship with my busy schedule. By seeing and reviewing plays, which is what kept me the busiest, I have been doing something I loved doing. In fact, I’m doing exactly what I had moved to New York to do. By babysitting, I was earning extra money, meeting some wonderful families and having a lot of fun with some fantastic children. And by working a full-time job, I have been advancing in a career field that I love and enjoy.
But I have still viewed being busy as a bad thing. I often felt overwhelmed, I usually felt tired and I almost always felt guilty for being busy and having to say no to people when they invited me to an event. What I have recently come to realize, however, was how many of those emotions did not come from within; instead they came from my response to other people’s reactions. My own emotions were a response to their disappointment, anger and hurt feelings resulting from my schedule.
“I must say, you have been quite busy lately.”
“You’re just too busy for me.”
“If you don’t mind my saying so, you’re very busy.”
I heard these statements very often, usually when I declined an invitation to a social event or told a friend from out of town that he or she couldn’t visit me one weekend because I already had plans. And even if these comments were not intended as criticisms, I took them that way.
Much has been written about being busy, and most of it in a negative sense, including a New York Times article about how people are addicted to being busy and calling for a break from the incessant need to be busy.
While I think there is value to what the Times story says, I do not think people being busy is something to be viewed negatively. Instead, I think this reaction comes from two parts of our culture that are hurting us, both personally and professionally: instant gratification and ego.
Without a doubt, our culture is one of instant gratification. We can get anything in an moment, usually thanks to our smartphones. But when this expectation of instant gratification enters into our personal lives, things get messier. I view making plans with someone a week or two in advance as a sign of my desire for and commitment to spending time with someone. However, my attempt to do so has often been viewed in a different way by other people. If someone asks me to spend time with them that same day or the following night, and I already have plans, my saying no is often taken as a personal offense. This is something I have tried to understand and empathize with, but I struggle with it often.
This is not to say I don’t enjoy time with my friends; my preference, however, is to plan a night where we can relax and enjoy each other rather than have to rush off to another event later in the night. After all, NPR reported recently that multi-tasking is bad for us. I prefer quality over quantity.
Another aspect of being busy that affects people is our egos. If we feel like someone doesn’t have time for us, we feel offended. We take it personally. Everyone goes through this, including me. We have somehow been programmed to value the amount of time we spend with someone as representative of how much we care about someone or they care about us. Adjusting this mindset is something I am working on, especially after some major and very positive changes in my professional life have taken place and affected my personal life as well. I have worried that I am letting people down by not being free to spend time with them – right when they want me to. But more recently I’ve learned that it’s their egos that are talking, and it’s me who is feeding them, by feeling guilty or apologizing for not having time right then and there.
I’ve decided this needs to change, for the sake of my own mental health and the health of my relationships with others. I have chosen to take ownership of my busy life and be proud of it. I’m busy. I’m busy doing what I love, and I want my friends and loved ones to be busy doing what they love. If they feel sorry for being busy, I tell them they don’t have to do that for me. I’m glad they are busy. And I hope they are glad that I am, too.