I was going to write a short preface to this blog about my addiction to busyness when I realized that the old opening still works. I had the same conversation this past week week—again!—with the very same friend. I have gotten better, but clearly not better enough. Herewith, confessions of a person who is way too busy…
I 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 keep 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 need to end this addiction to busyness.
I won’t be able to do this overnight. But I can start with Friday afternoons. Are you free for a coffee?