I recently published an article about how being busy isn’t respectable anymore and can make us miss the finer things in life. It seemed to strike a chord with many.
But ‘Busy,’ and its modern usage, has nuances worth exploring.
The man working 100 hour weeks losing his family just to keep up with the Jones is busy. But so is the stay at home mother of 3. Is she missing out on the more lasting things in life, too? Is her fast-paced and full life “not respectable?”
That’s because this recent cultural reevaluation of ‘Busy,’ isn’t actually questioning a PACE of life, it’s questioning a WAY of life.
In fact, it may serve the ‘anti-busy’ narrative well to define exactly what this ‘being busy’ really is, and perhaps, what it isn’t.
Being busy is being stuck.
Being ‘busy,’ in the negative sense, is more about being stuck in the rat race than it is about the speed of our lives.
Rat Race. The term is drawn from the imagery of rats tirelessly running their wheels, but ultimately achieving nothing meaningful, collectively or individually. In the modern expression, it alludes to both a financial reality and a cultural mentality that keeps us living to work, regardless of how meaningless that work really is.
My wife and I recently took inventory of our current lifestyle. What we found was that I spent 60+ hours of my week away from my family working to afford things we didn’t actually need, including a home that we only used 25% of. (See the rest of our observations here)
Our lifestyle-to-income ratio wasn’t sinking us, but it certainly didn’t come without a price. When you take into account that I often couldn’t enjoy an uninterrupted evening with my kids, or spend a focused amount of time to read a book, or consistently take my wife on a date, it simply doesn’t add up.
Our reasons for winding up indebted to a system of busy are all different, I’m sure. Some reasons can be unavoidable (IE: health bills, student loans…etc). But many are entirely avoidable – especially when it’s a rat-race mentality that believes the more stuff we acquire, the better.
Nigel Marsh accentuates this rodent-like absurdity in his recent TED talk when he says,
“Often, people work long hard hours at jobs they hate to earn money to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.”
Being less busy isn’t about working less.
One of the larger misconceptions is that becoming less busy is about becoming more lazy or pointlessly idle.
I brought the topic up over a coffee with a good friend, Jared Black, a few days back. Jared is a speaker and writer, who always somehow finds a way to articulate things brilliantly. As we looked at the busy-issue from several different angles, his perspective on work framed the conversation perfectly. He said…
There is a great disconnect in our cultural understanding about “work”. We have wrongly categorized it as only that from which one is compensated with money.
But, the truth is that work is any and every activity upon which we spend our time, effort, thoughts, physicality, and intentions, etc – not just what you are compensated for doing.
Yes, generating revenue for your company is “work,” but so is waking up and fixing breakfast. Exercising, responding to emails, returning mother’s phone call, picking kids up from practice, commuting: All Work. Relationships are work. Family is work. Self-development is work. Humans constantly work, plain and simple.
Becoming less busy isn’t about working less. It’s about working more in the meaningful areas. It’s about doing work, yes to pay bills, but also to intentionally support the uncompensated areas that make up a meaningful way of life instead of a haphazard pace of life. (read more of his thoughts here)
Becoming less busy isn’t primarily about slowing down or working less, nor is it some self-indulgent ambition.
Becoming less busy is about your career not being the only work you have time to do. It’s about being free to do other work, like family, friendship, & self development, as well.
Becoming less busy is about defining success on your own terms and designing a lifestyle that you believe in deeply - no matter how fast or slow it may be.