There are going to be times for all of us where our lives are a bit busier than others –a major project deadline at work, your kids are getting ready to go back to school, an unplanned home or car repair emerges, etc. But few of us have reason to be busy ALL of the time. However, we continue to feed into this toxic, culturally driven energy of perpetual motion and force ourselves to believe our time is filled each and every day. We equate busyness with social status and value, assuming people who are not busy are lazy, less than and in many cases, obsolete. We become humble braggers, always finding a way to wrap into conversations how busy we are and competing to see who is more important, more valuable, more successful amongst us based on how many things we have on our plate. Success is no longer tied to individuality but in how many people you can climb over to stand above.
But the irony is, truly productive people - the ones living an authentic life and being intentional in their decision making as they focus their energy on their goals – are not busy all of the time. They celebrate down time and find value in the oscillation between each phase of their life – recharge, brainstorm and execution. And when they do find their time more filled, they are usually not the ones labeling it as busy or talking about it to everyone they meet as they are engaged in what they are doing and mindful that they will soon be able to move back into one of the other phases.
Being booked solid and feeling “busy” or rushed all of the time does not equate to a more fulfilled life. It is no longer something to aspire to and actually, leaves you with less opportunity and ability to be productive in any sense of the word and most importantly, content. Our bodies are not made to move all of the time and our brain needs time to recharge in order to function optimally – without it, we burnout. But the funny thing is, most of us know this already and yet, we continue to master the skill of looking like we have everything together and yet are crumbling from the inside out. Why is that?
As I continued to look deeper into this and uncover some of my own habits around being busy and filling my time, I began to gain a lot more clarity around the issue – though I fought like hell to avoid it. The culprit underlying most of my habits was fear and not fear presenting in the “traditional” way - heart racing, palms sweaty, chills through your back - but a masked type of fear more commonly known as avoidance.
I let fear into the driver’s seat of my life and suddenly found myself not only feeling burnt out, but “too busy” to manage the things that really needed to be managed. We’ve all done this, right? We are “too busy” to have the hard conversations in relationships that weren’t working. We are “too busy” to go to the doctor when we know something is wrong. And we are especially “too busy” to address how much we hate our jobs or some other part of our life, leading us to walk through each day in discontent.
Fear is clever. It has so deeply embedded itself into our society where we now perpetuate these behaviors and tout them as ideal rather than stepping back and realizing certain trends, like that of being busy, are mere tricks played on us by fear keeping us from living a full life.
The more I dug into my own excuses, the more I saw how fear had kept me “safe” for so long that I wasn’t sure what it would mean to let it go. I had been in an 8 year relationship that I wasn’t happy in, had jobs I hated, boarded the medical school train when I was a toddler but hated the idea of practicing medicine and moved through the world with superficial relationships at the forefront where, even when I knew the deepest secrets of others, they never got below my surface. But how do you decide to let go of these ideals that are forced upon you by the culture you live in? How do you move away from being busy all of time, doing your best to outdo everyone else and doing what has been deemed both acceptable and successful by those around you? How do you step out of the comfort of the shadows and stand alone in the sun, aware that you might lose so much of what has been your foundation, even if superficial, from the time you were born?
For me, it meant getting clear on the fact that I wasn’t happy and understanding the power I had to make a choice. I could choose to live this life, making sacrifices to living authentically me, in order to please those around me and secure the social capital needed to externally seem worthy. Or, I could choose to move away from this and recognize that filling my cup to the brim every moment of every day did not make me happy and that what I wanted more than anything was space to figure out who I truly was. Doing that was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Throughout the years, I got clear on some very difficult realities. I had been in a relationship with a wonderful person whom I did not love. I was going to school to pursue a degree I had no passion for that would lead me to a profession I dreaded. I was dressing to play a part for others and at my most extreme, I fell into the all-consuming powers of an eating disorder fed by my desire to feel worthy and valuable to those around me. After I got clear on and was willing to acknowledge these things, and many others, I was able to make a plan for how I could move into the light. From there, each step I have taken - changing careers, finding the courage to have hard conversations, cutting people out of my life who stole my joy, etc - has come with great reward and great loss. People I thought would be in my life forever turned out to be fair-weather friends (and even family). The idea of success looked dramatically different than it once did. And I found myself constantly feeling like I was at the bottom of some tower I wasn’t even sure I could scale. But in the same breaths and with each move, I also found comfort in ambiguity. I was able to move towards relationships focused on my needs as well as theirs. I found recovery from an eating disorder I was sure I would have until the day I died. I found great love and a career and the courage to uncover my true beauty as an individual - inside and out. And most importantly, for the first time ever, I could go to sleep with the last thoughts I had being pride in myself for who I have become and continue to grow into as a human being rather than constantly berating myself for never doing enough.
Confronting the power of fear cloaked in avoidance can feel insurmountable. You may be able to come clear with yourself on how fear plays a role in your life and yet be unable to move in a direction that lessens its hold on you. Society tells us we have to have everything together. We are supposed to be able to handle things on our own and even when we are flailing, do so with grace. But I’m going to call bullshit on everything we think we know. Sometimes, you can’t turn a belly flop into a swan dive. Sometimes a wreck is just a wreck and you don’t have to paint it any other way. That, in it of itself is avoiding the one gift we have - the ability to rebuild. Rather than trying to constantly build up layers on a foundation of inauthentic bullshit, tear it down and have the courage to start again. See yourself not as ruined but reborn with the possibility to take as much time as you need to uncover your true self - no rush is necessary for no matter how filled or still your life is, there is nothing - no social capital, no achievements, no nothing - that you need to do in order to have value. You, alone are already enough and it’s okay to slow down and celebrate you, no justification or reason necessary. And I promise, once you give yourself the space to get clear on who you are in the deepest depths of your soul, you will find the courage already lies within you to start moving in the direction you choose.