My name is Vanessa and I am a busybody.
I’ll be the first to admit it. There is an intrinsic part of my being that hates doing nothing. I equate idleness to laziness, and sometimes end up counting perfectly good days as “wasted” if I don’t end up with something to show for them. I have a very powerful awareness of time and its rapid passage that gives no reprieve or retrieval, and because of this I cram my hours in hopes of making my time count.
Some of you might read this and think I am crazy. But I’m willing to bet most of you can relate, at least a little, to the busybody mentality. In today’s always-on culture, we’re left very little time to breathe, much less rest. In fact, we sometimes treat rest as a sin, don’t we? Like a luxury we can’t afford, or a guilty pleasure we feel wrong doing. I call this the busyness burden— the feeling of obligation that makes us feel as if we need to be always “on”, always moving. It’s the anxious feeling we have in the backs of our minds that tells us we don’t have time, we never have enough time, to just be.
It’s especially true in the college setting, where classes, extracurriculars, sports and socialization attack us from all sides. We measure our days in terms of productivity; wear our busyness like a status symbol, as if the amount of bullets on our To-Do lists equate to importance. Take a walk through any campus and you’ll hear students touting sleep deprivation like a badge of honor: “Man, I only got like 4 hours of sleep last night.” “Oh yeah? Well, I have 2 papers due and went to bed at 5 a.m.”
It’s not just a student condition, and the busyness burden doesn’t lift upon graduation. In life there will always be pressure to keep moving and do more. We live in a culture that tells us we need to be the best at work, have an active social life, give back to the community, hit 10,000 steps per day, date, eat our veggies, do our laundry, walk the dog, call our moms– all while having a few hobbies so we have something to contribute to dinner conversation.
There’s really only so much that can fit in the span of 24 hours (minus 8, because don’t forget to get enough sleep), yet I think we’ve all been guilty of overestimating it to the point of burning out–or worse. Don’t get me wrong, it’s OK to do some of these things (or all of them if you can really balance it). But the real problem is being busy with the wrong things. When we find ourselves “too busy” for a lunch date with a friend; when we simply do not have time for a quick call home; when we’re pouring out each day more than we’re allowing to be poured in.
I can’t definitively say which things are worth being busy over– that’s different for each of us. But I can say that being busy doesn’t make you more important. And relaxation is not always wasted time.
This semester, I am a lot less “busy.” I am filling my time, nonetheless, but I no longer feel the pressure to take on everything at once. For maybe the first time ever, I am realizing my limits. I am saying ‘no’ to things I’ve done in the past, which has allowed me to say ‘yes’ to unexpected new opportunities that arise. Maybe most importantly, I am learning not to beat myself up over it, either. I can feel the busyness burden slowly, slightly, lifting.
But a leopard can’t change its spots, and this post is as much a reminder to me as it is to any who read it. So I hope that some other stressed-out soul takes a moment to read this. To pause, take stock of what’s keeping you busy and your motivations behind them.
Instead of just being busy, let’s get busy with the things that matter most.