There is a quote saying “If you want something done, ask a busy person”.
Being busy is often seen as a badge of honour, so that must mean being busy is a good thing? Perhaps being busy makes us feel that we are popular or even successful. A diary full of appointments, a vibrating and noisy mobile phone stuck to our ears, constantly needing to be available 24 hours a day.
Sleeping with one eye open and with our phone nearby incase of emergencies. Our mobile phone is full of social media notifications, alarms, reminders, emails and messages all waiting to be replied to instantly. With every beep or vibrate our hearts beat faster as the adrenaline pumps around our tense bodies.
Our friends are all busy with their jobs and families, arranging to meet up for a coffee is almost impossible and has to be planned with military precision, yet each time we meet up we always say “Let’s not leave it so long before meeting up next time.” But we always do and we compare our busy lives and how stressed we are. We dream about future holidays, days off and even retirement when we can relax. We discuss our health complaints, our headaches, palpitations and IBS just to name a few.
Yet despite saying our ill health and spotty skin is caused by stress, we never do anything about it because the opposite of being busy is not being busy, which would make us lazy, and no one wants to be lazy.
Have you ever considered that there is a middle ground? Not too busy, lazy or retired? Not 100 miles per hour, or 10 miles per hour but perhaps a life at 50 miles per hour.
A few years ago I considered it for the first time. I had my own business with its own premises and staff. I loved the buzz I received from working hard and working long hours. This often meant 12-hour days and six-day weeks, sometimes seven. And taking work home to finish over a microwaved meal. I loved creating a successful business from scratch, but my health was suffering and I decided that I didn’t want to live like this anymore. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I decided to sell the business and take some time to work out what I wanted to do with my life and how I wanted to live it.
The day after handing the business over to the new owners I felt the pressure leave my body. My shoulders were no longer tense and I could feel myself breathing. It may sound strange, but I realised that while I was so busy I often held my breath and I certainly didn’t use all of my lungs to breathe. The other thing I noticed was how quiet my phone was. Silent, in fact. I was still checking my emails every few minutes, out of habit, and would see that there were no new messages. My phone didn’t ring or vibrate anymore.
While I was selling the business, I dreamt about sleeping in, not setting an alarm, cooking and baking from the many unopened recipe books I had and watching daytime TV. But the truth is, I missed being busy. I missed feeling needed and I didn’t know how to function without being busy.
So I decided to make myself busy again, but doing different things. I got my diary out and messaged my friends and family to arrange to meet up with them. But they were too busy and my diary stayed empty. My mind kept going to my old habits of thinking about other business ideas. I even searched the internet for jobs I could apply for, but I knew I had to break this cycle of behaviour and change my thought process.
I decided to have a mature gap year and during the year I would try different activities and find hobbies. This included reading books, writing poetry, listening to music, watching films and going on holidays to different places. I realised that I didn’t really have any hobbies before as I was always working, I didn’t have children so I just had myself to please.
Turning ‘should’ into ‘want’
I stopped doing things I thought I ‘should’ do and started doing things I ‘wanted’ to do. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. It took effort to keep reminding myself to slow down. So many things were habits, such as drinking a cup of coffee. I had to practise drinking and tasting the coffee and not just throwing it down my throat, like I did when I was too busy. I realised that the people I felt ‘needed me’ were only because I was paying them and they worked for me, or wanted something from me. It was the work I did that they needed, not me. This truth was a hard one to accept.
After a year I decided that I liked not being too busy but I didn’t like having an empty diary. It actually still filled me with fear when I didn’t have any plans. I also still feel guilty for having a bath during the day or watching daytime TV. I guess some things take longer to adjust to.
My mental and physical health improved and I was happier than I had been in a long time. Personally I think being busy is overrated and glorified too much by social media, where we compare our lives to others. Being too busy can be very dangerous and damages many lifes and relationships. No one ever said on their deathbed that they wished they had worked more. I think everyone can make small changes in the way they live their life that will make it more enjoyable and fulfilling. Perhaps it could be taking a break, having a short walk outside and listening to birds singing.