How to Avoid Being Busy but Barren -- Part 1
"Beware the barrenness of a busy life." (Socrates)
There have been seasons of my life when I fell for a lie. It was a simple lie, one that is propagated by our society, by our culture, by my religion sometimes. It seems like common sense, but it is, in fact, a dangerous and destructive lie.
It goes like this: my happiness is dependent upon how busy I am. Being busy means I'm important. Being busy means I'm using my time wisely. Busyness is worn like a badge of honor in our world. Any threat to that busyness is a threat to my hope for happiness.
There is one problem: being busy doesn't make me happy. It creates an illusion that I'm moving towards a day when I will feel happy -- somewhere down the line -- when I can finally slow down and be happy.
Busy today; happy tomorrow.
But tomorrow never comes.
Just more busyness.
When I do coaching for leaders, one of the things I sometimes tell them is that they would be better leaders, they'd have better relationships, and they'd last longer in their field if they would simply slow down. But boy, oh boy, do people get defensive about their busyness. We have stuff to do, places to go, items to cross off our to-do lists, debt to eliminate, skills to master, promotions to earn, people to manage, dreams to chase. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go.
Think about the foolish idea of multi-tasking. Studies show that no one is good at it. And yet we persist, don't we? Even when it means never being present in an activity we enjoy. We feel guilty for having unplanned blocks of time. We scour the internet looking for productivity hacks and apps. We check our email after-hours, on weekends, even on vacation.
Part of this has to do with our idea of the American Dream -- the notion that our potential for happiness is inextricably linked to our freedom to pursue health, wealth, and prosperity. I read something recently that said 80% of our nation believes they will one day become rich (the reality is only about 10% will). It makes sense, then, for folks to live like they're in a race -- constantly competing to beat the odds. We believe that if we work harder and longer than anyone else, squeeze more into our day than the guy in the cubicle next to ours, if we get up a little bit earlier and stay up a little bit later, then we'll be able to grab the brass ring and finally escape the busyness.
Life lived like that turns most of your days into something you must endure rather than something you could actually enjoy. Work is seen as a means to an end, rather than something that could be an end in and of itself. We think busyness leads to money, which will lead to happiness. Someday.
I'm not saying there's no place for work. I want work that stretches me, work that fulfills me, work that infuses my life with meaning. But money won't ever lead me to happiness if I'm not happy already. And I won't be happy if I'm so busy I can't pay attention to what's going on right now in this moment.
We think we'll be happier if we never had to work or if we didn't have bills or if we had a bigger house. So, we spin our wheels trying to create a world that will allow us to kick back and breathe. Odds are, if we ever succeeded in creating such a place, we wouldn't know how to enjoy it. We're training ourself for barrenness through busyness.
It's time to take a long, hard look at what the American Dream means to you. I'm pretty sure there are parts of it you'll have to work for. But I'm also pretty sure there are parts of it that you already have if you'd slow down enough to look at your life.
Photo Credit: Damir Kotoric