I often write about simple living, slowing down and why we should stop glorifying being busy. In fact previous posts about the cost of being busy and how to stop being busy and start being productive lay out reasons why I think too many people are scheduling too many activities in their lives in an attempt to live up to social norms or avoid being alone with themselves. Many people seem to always be in 'motion' but their 'actions' are not always purposeful. Existentialists would say they are fleeing themselves by blindly following social conventions and throwing themselves into the busyness of contemporary society. Life then becomes a series of disjointed events and distractions without direction or meaningful action.
But after chatting about this with my brother, Luke, he suggested that I might be being reckless in putting a negative spin on being busy when some people might thrive in those conditions. Many ambitious people naturally operate at a high frequency and like to be busy all the time, and they achieve great results and are happiest when doing so. In fact, our parents have always found joy in being busy and continuously working hard, whether for money or just keeping an old home in good repair or tending a huge vegetable garden every year. They've always believed that the mind needs something productive to focus on every day, and so keeping busy with tasks is healthy for them and they enjoy it.
"A person can't find themselves 'too busy' if everything they do has value in it for them," Luke said. "They can be busy with work, kids, preparing food, enjoying entertainment, sharing time with others, or providing opportunities for people who depend on them. If they value what they're doing (ie. it aligns with their true values) they'll always be engaged and energized. If they're engaged in life they'll always be busy, but they'll never wear down."
He feels it could be dangerous to make a blanket statement that being busy is a bad thing because it's when people feel like they shouldn't be busy or feel guilty for their ambition that things begin to break down. They begin to feel stressed and anxious. They lose the wind in their sails and their pride takes a hit. And ultimately so does their contribution to the world.
Fair enough. So being busy isn't problematic. It's living a too-busy life that you don't value that brings trouble like mental and physical health problems. Also, being too busy is an internal problem, not an external one. When we assess our activities and figure out what is essential to the life we want to live, we can be busy with the right things. And so after this conversation, I realized I wouldn't want to make anyone who is busy and feeling energized from it feel like they shouldn't be doing what they're doing. Indeed, more power to you and may you continue being in flow!
In fact, I've come to realize that my own desire for being less busy and my perception of simple living has changed. I intentionally stopped being so busy a couple of years ago when I decided to quit my traditional 9-5 job and do my own thing. I moved back to my hometown for a slower pace of life and to allow my creativity to flourish by offering design services and writing about design and simple living full-time. I gave myself the flexibility to declutter my calendar and have more time for myself and what I wanted to do. It's been great, and I've grown tremendously since making that decision. But here's the thing: I've also found myself missing being busy.
When I was busy with a full-time career and a part-time hustle I enjoyed working with colleagues who challenged me. The high energy helped me generate ideas and bring them to life. I thrived on having a purpose outside of myself. I capitalized on a momentum that led to good work not only in my 9-5 gig but also in my side hustle and relationships and helping others. I was in flow. I just perhaps didn't realize it because I was struggling against it, and didn't achieve the right balance in all areas of my life.
And so recently I've gone back to work. I'm consulting part-time using the skills I learned in my past career and still working the rest of the time on my own creative business and pursuits. It's a good balance and I'm enjoying the benefits of being busy again, instead of worrying about the costs of percieved "unhealthy busyness". I have a feeling of self-accomplishment and purpose each day, which has lead to greater confidence. I've also been stretching my mind again, and it's brought new inspiration and clarity to all of my work. And of course, there's the benefit of financial gains, which takes enormous pressure off and allows me to enjoy my creative projects even more.
I'm in no way saying that we should all work 14-hour days and not take vacations. I'm still a big believer in taking the time to get to know yourself, your values and your inner purpose. I still feel we need to strike the right balance of work, home, health and play, and that we do better when we allow a little bit of stillness into our lives every day. But if we do these things and align our busyness with the essential activities that are valuable and purposeful, engagement in life - and happiness - will surely follow.