Tag Archives: being too busy

My Love-Hate Relationship with Being Busy

vive la vie

vive la vieI was trying to plan an outing with a friend I’d not seen in a while. But when I looked at my calendar, I realized that my next window wasn’t for another month. “I’m really sorry,” I said. “October is insane. I’m afraid that’s the reality of being a freelancer.”

“No it isn’t,” she quipped. “That’s the reality of being Delia.”

Work First, Life Second

Although the comment stung, I knew she was right. Much in the way that other people are addicted to their phones or other, more nefarious substances, I’m addicted to busyness.

And the primary way that I make myself busy is through work. I frequently work on weekends. I tell myself that this is down to the “plight of the freelancer”  – and there is some truth to that – but I know that a lot of it is my own inability to stop working.

I was really proud of myself recently for carving out a three-hour window to see friends every Friday evening between now and Christmas. I finish teaching at 4 o’clock on Fridays and I’m usually totally beat. So I thought, “Yes! That’s when I’ll chill!”

I told another friend how excited I was about finding this window for my social life.

“You and your windows!” she said, shaking her head. (Are you seeing a pattern here with my friends?)

My friend organizes her life around seeing her friends, and slots her work in around that. I do the reverse.

Fear of Death

I’d love to tell you that my endless busyness is driven by the fact that I’m a high-energy person. I am. And particularly now that I love my job, I don’t mind working extra hours when I need to. Work is fun.

But it runs much deeper than that. There is a fear of the abyss – of how to deal with the thoughts and fears that crop up when I don’t have 10,000 things to tick off my to-do list. I worry that if I slow down, I won’t re-start.  It is, at the end of the day, akin to a fear of death. In my mind, to stop moving is to stop being. And who am I without constant movement?

This fear is particularly acute on Sundays, when I always feel like I’m right on the edge of a tidal wave of despair. But if I swim fast enough, I can just escape being swallowed up. Over the course of the day, what might have been depression morphs into a prickly disquietude. And I ward it off through work.

Paying it Forward 

When I was growing up, my mother used to say “I’m cold; put a sweater on.” It was her way of projecting onto me her own needs.

I hate to say that I now do this with my own daughter. Except that instead of telling her to put a sweater on, I tell her to stop being so busy.  My daughter does a gazillion after-school activities. (Apple, meet tree.) Her motto, which is emblazoned on a neon sign in her room –  is “Vive la Vie!”

Unlike me, however, my daughter isn’t busy because she’s fleeing something. For her, living life to the fullest means never saying no. If someone invites you to the theater or to a bubble tea or to a political protest at the last minute, you say “yes,” even if you’ve got a mound of homework to get through. She doesn’t want to miss out on life’s experiences.

I admire this in her. Just like I admire my friend who organizes her social life first and her work life second.

And yet, I am constantly admonishing my daughter to do less. “You’re too busy!” I tell her. “Slow down a bit!”

Who am I *really* talking to?

Vive la Vie

Not for the first time, I find myself taking life lessons from my teenage children. I think it’s time to put my money where her mouth is and vive my own vie.

Which is to say, it’s time for me to let go of the fear and be OK with slowing down.

I  won’t be able to do this  overnight. But I can start with Friday afternoons. Are you free for a coffee?

Image: Sentir la Vida via Flickr

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You're Working Too Hard

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Sometimes it’s the off-hand comment that really gets you thinking.

So there I was in the playground yesterday, about to pick my daughter up from school, when I started talking to a friend who was also waiting for her son. We were midway into a vague, “How’s it goin’?” sort of chat, when she suddenly commented, seemingly out of nowhere: “You seem so busy. Do you ever eat lunch?”

I laughed, reassuring her that I did, even while suppressing the memory of stuffing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into my mouth but two hours earlier as I galloped up a hill towards a bi-monthly appointment with my life coach (whom I see to help me…relax.)

But it gets better. As we talked some more about my work schedule, my double-school-run-afternoons and my husband’s recent business travel, she asked – in all seriousness – “Do you ever watch TV?”

She meant it in the nicest way, of course. She’s a really nice person. But, still, it cut me like a knife.

I mean: Do I ever watch TV? Am I so busy that the image I now project is that of a pop-culture-bereft, ready-meal-popping freak show who zips around North London on her collapsible bicycle desperately trying to keep up with her life? (Don’t answer that question. And by the way, does falling asleep to the Director’s Cut of Pride and Prejudice count as “watching TV”?)

So I gave it some thought. And I realized that I have been working too hard lately and trying to do too much. And I really need to relax. Here are five other tell-tale signs that you need to take a break:

1. Strangers tell you that you look rushed. It’s one thing when a friend tells you that you seem over-worked. But when even a stranger expresses concern that you’re too busy, it’s really time to take note. I was in the pharmacy the other day – where, because of the multitude of medical problems afflicting my family – the pharmacists are basically my extended family. Again, seemingly out of nowhere, the owner of the shop stepped forward and observed: “You always seem to be in a rush.” (“Why do you say that?” I wanted to reply. “Because I just knocked 42 of your contact lens solutions on the floor when I whooshed in here to grab my prescription while – literally – jogging?”) Once again, she meant it in the nicest way. This lady brings the descriptor “kindly” to a whole new level. And that made her remark all the more telling.

2. Muscle pain migrates to new corners of your body. Remember my piriformis syndrome? Thought I had that licked, didn’t you? Nope. It’s back. Only it has inexplicably migrated to the left side of my body. As soon as the pain started about six weeks ago, I recognized the symptoms instantly. And for a while, I ignored it. (Even though you should never ignore pain. You heard it here first.) But you know it’s time to cut back on what you’re doing when your body is basically screaming: “Hey! Pay Attention to Me!”

3. You feel relieved when you *have* to read your favorite magazine. I love The New Yorker. But despite my Sabbath Saturday resolve to devote more time to reading this magazine, I’ve fallen off the wagon. There are three – quite possibly, four – issues sitting in my magazine rack as we speak. One day last week, I found myself waiting for one of my kids for an hour with nothing to do but read my New Yorker. And I felt…relieved. As in: “Thank goodness this hour presented itself miraculously in my life!” Not as in: “Gee, I love the New Yorker and I think I’ll spend an hour reading it this afternoon because I want to.” What’s wrong with this picture?

4. You mistake tragedy for comedy. I love Indie films. The bleaker, the better. So when I recommended Winter’s Bone to some friends recently, I was puzzled when one of them, while passing me on the school run, shouted out: “Hey, thanks for the movie recommendation. We had a lovely evening. But it was a bit…grim, no?” To which I responded: “Grim? Really? I found it kind of uplifting.” When I recounted this exchange to my husband later that evening, he looked at me as if I were smoking crack. Like me, he also loved the movie. But “uplifting”? To paraphrase his reaction, when you mix poverty, drugs, murder and rural American sub-cultures, that’s not generally characterized as “uplifting.” Just sayin’.

5. You read Nora Ephron. I like my books much like I prefer my movies: heavy and (often) dark. (For me, the Dragon Tattoo series constitutes “light.”) So when my book club chose Nora Ephron’s Heartburn as its selection this month, I was initially disappointed. Not my cuppa, as they say. Boy, was I wrong. It’s not a great novel by any stretch. In fact, it’s not so much a novel as an extended rant by Ephron against her ex-husband for cheating on her when she was seven months pregnant. (And who can blame her?) But, man is Ephron funny. She has a terrific voice. And sometimes, we all just need to laugh.

Fortunately, I will have a chance to take a break later this month when I travel with my family – and my mother – to Berlin, one of those European cities I’ve always wanted to visit. Let’s just hope that whole terrorist threat thing has lifted by then. Speaking of grim…

*****

I was very grateful for this shout-out on the New York Times Freakonomics blog for my recent piece on health care reform in the U.K.

Image: Eat On The Run by Brave Heart via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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